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Family's agonising wait for Niall Quinn's body to be repatriated after tragedy in Australia

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 25/01/2016

Friends of Niall Quinn on the houseboat
Friends of Niall Quinn on the houseboat
Niall Quinn
The houseboat from which he fell
Services searching for his body

It could be the middle of the week before the body of a young man from Northern Ireland who drowned in Australia can be flown home, a charity has said.

The parents and family of Niall Quinn, who died after falling from a houseboat into a river, have been devastated by his death, said Colin Bell from the Kevin Bell Repatriation Fund.

The Silverbridge man, described by friends as "one of the best", had been working as a joiner and was living in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old had been on a weekend cruise to celebrate Australia Day. The houseboat was on the Murray River, near the New South Wales border with Victoria.

Friends said he climbed over a handrail in an attempt to jump into the river. They jumped in after him but lost sight of him in the murky water.

Police believe the builder struck his head before hitting the water. Mr Bell said it has helped the family to make arrangements to bring Niall's body home.

Mr Bell, who spoke to Niall's father Anthony following the tragedy, said it could be Wednesday before the remains can be flown back.

"Friends of the family contacted us and then I was speaking to his parents Anthony and Deirdre," he said.

"They are completely devastated. I think Niall was off with his friends for the Australia Day weekend."

The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust was set up by the Bell family from Newry after the 26-year-old died in a hit-and-run in New York in June 2013.

"I have contacted an undertaker in Sydney," Mr Bell said.

"Niall's body will be flown there, where an autopsy will be carried out.

"Then arrangements will be made to bring him home. It could be delayed slightly because it is Australia Day on Tuesday. So it could be Wednesday before he is brought home."

It is understood Niall's uncle and brother Gary were to fly to Australia last night.

Police in New South Wales said they were alerted at around 1.40am on Saturday that a man, who was staying on the boat with friends, had fallen from the top deck into the water.

Police, assisted by divers, local marine rescue and local boats, assisted in a search.

His body was located around two hours later by Victoria Police divers.

NSW Police Superintendent Peter Hayes said: "On the way down he's actually collided with the bottom deck of the houseboat.

"Last they saw of him, he was floating face down in the river.

"It's a terrible situation to be faced with.

"They're all young men and they've never had to deal with anything like this."

Sinn Fein councillor Barra O Muiri, who knows the family, described Niall as the "life and soul" of the community.

He said the news of the death had left local people devastated.

"He was a very nice fella, a lovely chap and a lad who was never in bad form or got in any bother.

"He was a very happy-go-lucky fella. He would have played a bit of sport with Silverbridge Harps."

The former pupil at St Joseph's School in Crossmaglen was described by the GAA club as "a genuine talent and a proud son of our club".

Among those paying tribute was former Armagh GAA star Jarlath Burns.

"Utterly devastating news about the tragic death of our much loved @SilverbridgeGAA player Niall Quinn. Please pray for his family today," he said. Distraught friends posted tributes and photographs of Niall on social media.

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