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Joe McDermott and Gerard Bradley pals and colleagues stunned by building site tragedy

By Allan Preston

Published 26/11/2015

Joe McDermott
Joe McDermott
Gerard Bradley
Joe McDermott
Shocked workers at the site await news of their colleagues

Like so many people from Northern Ireland who have travelled the world, friends Joe McDermott and Gerard Bradley were living the dream in Australia.

The pair had been settling into a new routine in East Perth after finding construction work.

But that dream turned to a nightmare when they paused in the heat for a smoke break and a chat. Seconds later, it is believed a large concrete slab fell from the back of a truck, killing both.

Gerard (29) was only one day away from beginning his journey home for Christmas. He had been due to reunite with his friend Michael at the airport.

And just weeks earlier, Joe (24) was enjoying a farewell party with his friends wishing him well for his new life in Australia.

Reporting from the scene of the tragedy, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation spoke to one witness who said he heard a loud crash nearby.

The man ran to the site and tried to help workers lift the 10-15 metre slab off the two men using wooden planks. Despite their heroic efforts, both had already died by the time police arrived.

Joe 'Hoss' McDermott was the first death to be confirmed. The former pupil at Sacred Heart College in Omagh had been working as a barman before he left for Australia a month ago.

Recently, he posted a picture of himself enjoying the sunny view of Perth from his balcony.

His former co-worker George Munto said: "Can't believe the messages I've had today. Absolutely awful news. So shocked. Was amazing working with you, never a dull moment when you came through the door. Thoughts are with your family."

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff, who spoke to the McDermott family, said: "They are obviously distraught. Their focus now is to have the remains of their loved one brought home as soon as possible."

Sinn Fein councillor Sorcha McAnespy, a friend of Joe's, told the Belfast Telegraph he had left home looking forward to exploring. "He loved adventures so that's why he went over there - he had great intentions," she said. "It's just unbelievable. He was incredibly popular and he made everyone feel special and touched everyone he met."

Friend Zara Elkin added her sympathies, saying: "You will be missed by so many people in our community. A real gentlemen and a friend to everyone.

"Omagh has lost a true legend and the life and soul of a party. Too young, too soon."

Matt Mathers, a friend of Mr McDermott, told BBC Radio Ulster he had known him since they were children. "I know it's kind of a standard thing to say when someone passes away that they were loved by everyone, but I think on this occasion it really rings true," he said.

"He was such a happy-go-lucky sort of character. Growing up, Joe would always have been the kind of reserved one. It's tragic for him to take that big step and move out to Australia and make a life for himself out there, and for it be cut short in tragic circumstances. It's difficult to take."

Later on Tuesday, another family had their worst fears realised when Gerard was confirmed as the second fatality. Growing up in Coleraine, the former pupil of St Joseph's engineering college was well known as a talented sportsman, just as at home on the golf course as he was playing Gaelic football. His brother Gregory said: "He would be one of the few people that I don't know anyone who had a bad word to say about. We can't believe what has happened."

Gerard especially loved spending time at the nearby Portstewart Golf Club with friends and left a lasting impression. Wendy McGrotty, the club administrator, said: "He was a lovely fella, and my son Gary was a very good friend of his. He won the club championship here in 2006 with the joint lowest ever score, and his handicap was one."

Gerard's friend Michael Logan, who had been due to meet him at the airport, shared a picture online of the two enjoying a holiday eight years ago. Just one night away from meeting his friend, he said: "No words can express how I feel. Tomorrow was the day we were to be reunited in Australia. Still hoping you'll be there at the airport. My best mate Gerry Bradley RIP."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Gerard's childhood friend Chris Hughes said those close to him were struggling to come to terms with the news.

"I grew up with him," he added. "He was a very funny guy. He was a good golfer and was passionate about football. No one can absorb what's happened."

At the Portstewart Arms pub, staff and customers were also trying to take in the news.

Barman Ted Maguire said: "He worked in here for a few years. He was a lovely, happy, friendly, jolly fella and he played in our golfing society. He was a very good golfer and the mood here is very sad today, very subdued."

Olive McGowan, who used to work with him in the bar, added: "He was a lovely-looking fella. He should have been a model. When he went out to Australia, he grew a beard. He kept in touch and I joked he should have got rid of the beard. Gerry was the sort of fella every mother would have wanted their daughter to marry. There was no badness in him."

SDLP MLA John Dallat expressed his sympathies for both families and acknowledged the pain of losing a loved one abroad. He said: "I have no doubt that Irish people in Australia and here at home will rally to the families and give them the love and care they need to deal with this dreadful news."

Jaxon Construction, which was carrying out the work on the complex, released a statement expressing its "heartfelt thoughts and condolences" to the families, loved ones and colleagues of the victims. As a mark of respect, all Jaxon construction sites will close for a day.

The firm added: "Safety is our highest priority. The accident is the subject of an investigation by the authorities, and it would be premature to speculate. We are co-operating fully with the Coroner's Office and will make further announcements as information becomes available".

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