by Louise Doyle
POST-mortem examinations on the bodies of five family members who lost their lives in a tragic drowning accident at Buncrana Pier yesterday evening are taking place today.
Ruth Daniels, along with her daughter, Jodie-Lee, Sean McGrotty – a partner of her daughter, Louise James – and their children, Mark and Evan – died on Sunday evening when their vehicle got into difficulty on the slip-way way at Buncrana Pier. The couple’s four-month-old baby girl was rescued from the the Audi Q7.
It’s understood the vehicle had driven down the slipway, which is used for the Buncrana to Rathmullan ferry.
Speaking earlier at a press conference at the site of the tragedy, Superintendent Colm Nevin, confirmed that post-mortem examinations were being carried out on the bodies of the family from Derry.
Appealing for any witnesses to the tragic incident to come forward, he said: “At approximately 7pm yesterday evening we received an emergency call at Buncrana Garda Station telling us that a vehicle had entered the water at the slipway in Buncrana Pier. The emergency services attended very quickly to the scene. We were also told there was a number of occupants in the vehicle at the time. A bystander who was close by rescued a young four-month-old baby and that baby is now in Letterkenny Hospital doing very well.
“The vehicle has been recovered. It was an Audi Q7. There were five occupants in the vehicle and they were recovered by local divers. With the assistance of the PSNI we have identified the family and we have notified the relatives overnight.
“There were two females; one adult and one young child. There were three males; an adult male and two young children. We were assisted here by the other emergency services – the RNLI, the local fire brigade, the HSE, local divers and the local helicopter.
“Post-mortems are now taking place in Letterkenny University Hospital. We are treating this as a very tragic incident and we are appealing for witnesses – a number have come forward but if there are any other witnesses I would like them to contact us at Buncrana Garda Station on 074 91 320540.”
Superintendent Nevin added: “This is a terrible tragedy. It is one of the biggest we have experienced in North Donegal in a long, long time.”
Elsewhere, Joe Joyce, of Lough Swilly RNLI, said a major rescue operation ensued as soon as the incident was reported. Mr Joyce fought back tears as he described the incident as “the worst tragedy” he had ever come across.
Outlining how the horrific events unfolded, he said: “We spent yesterday afternoon and evening here on exercise with the coastguard and we had just finished that exercise and the helicopter had returned to Sligo. We had just left the pier when a call came in that a car had gone off the pier in Buncrana and that there were a number of people in the water.
“Our response team were really quick, we were back here sharpish and we launched two lifeboats and a boarding boat. At that stage there were three people face down in the water. Each of the boats recovered a person from the water and commenced CPR and tried to resuscitate them and took them back to shore and handed them over to the fire service and paramedics there, who continued to make efforts to resuscitate them.
“We went back to sea, we located the car in about ten foot of water and one of the members put on a snorkel and dived down into the car and recovered a further two bodies from the car. At that stage we had no idea of the number of people involved in the incident. At that stage the boot of the car was opened so we managed to get the registration number and passed it to the gardai who passed it to the PSNI. As I say we didn’t know if there were any other people involved so we continued to search until 11.30pm and then stood down.
“The scene on the pier was of absolute total shock. The parish priest arrived and issued the last rights. A doctor came to do the pronouncement and there was just an overwhelming feeling of shock. A number of local divers arrived here and dived to the car and attached ropes to it to lift it. The jeep was recovered and was taken away by Gardai.
“I’ve been in the RNLI for 12 years and this is the worst tragedy I have come across. Nothing can prepare you for this. We are keeping the family very much in our thoughts. Terrible loss of life. This happened in seconds. I don’t think anyone could have done anything.
“It’s still very raw. Later on this afternoon we’ll be talking to people who specialise in counselling. We will take solace from one another.”
Meanwhile, a Buncrana couple who visited the pier earlier today also spoke of their disbelief and sadness at the tragic incident.
Catriona and Columba McLaughlin recalled how they had heard a lot of activity yesterday evening before receiving a phone call from their son telling them what had happened. They said the town of Buncrana was reeling from the shock and devastation.
“You can’t imagine the horror, terror and fear they would have experienced and no-one could do anything. It’s very sombre in the town today, just utter grief.
“Our thoughts are with the family and everyone who has been affected by this awful tragedy.
“It’s hard to see how the town will recover, but we are resilient people.”