Belfast Telegraph

Donegal drowning witness recalls final moments: 'Help is on way I shouted, but the car sank... then silence'

By Donna Deeney

A family day out ended in unimaginable horror when five people drowned after their car slid off the slipway at Buncrana pier and disappeared into the murky depths of Lough Swilly on Sunday evening.

Sean McGrotty (46), his two sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), their grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie Lee Daniels perished within 10 minutes of their Audi Q7 entering the water.

Crowdfunding raises thousands for family of Buncrana pier tragedy victims 

A Garda cordon held back people who arrived with floral tributes at the pier yesterday, many of them in tears.

At the scene was Joe Joyce, a member of the Lough Swilly RNLI crew who attended the callout.

There was little physical evidence of the scale of the loss, but the stunned expression on Mr Joyce's face as he recalled the tragedy that unfolded on Sunday evening was clear.

He said: "We had been here exercising with the helicopter for most of the afternoon and had just finished, but some of the crew were still in their cars when the call came through that a car had gone in at the pier and there were a number of children in the car.

"We threw everything we had at this, we launched two lifeboats and a boarding boat too.

"We arrived at the scene and there were three bodies, one of a young girl and two adults floating in the water.

"Each of our boats picked them up, brought them back to the shore and commenced CPR.

"We handed them over to our colleagues in the Fire Brigade who continued CPR and we returned to sea where we located the car, which was in around 10 feet of water. One of our crew members donned a snorkel and entered the water and recovered a further two bodies from within the car - the two young boys.

"We passed the number plate on to the Garda and continued to search until we were stood down around 11pm.

"A short while after that some family members came to the pier to identify the bodies.

"It is just unbelievable that this could happen in Buncrana.

"We are all local volunteers all with families of our own.

"We do training exercises but nothing can prepare you for the enormity of a tragedy like this, especially when all of the victims are from one family."

The emergency services were contacted on Sunday evening by Francis Crawford, who was out for a stroll along the pier with his wife when he realised the people inside the Audi were in danger.

Mr Crawford said he will never forget the scene that unfolded in front of him.

He explained: "I noticed the car down at the slipway and how far down the slipway they were, so I called to the driver: 'Are you OK?', because I knew straight away he was in bother, and he said: 'Phone the Coastguard, phone the Coastguard'.

"I rang straight away and while I was doing this another man from Kerrykeel came and I begged him to go in, which he did.

"He stripped off to his underwear and away he went with great risk to himself, because it was very cold.

"I could see him out at the car, it was about 30 metres off at this stage, the baby was handed out to him.

"He came in with the wee baby, he was totally exhausted. I was watching the car and shouting to everyone in it: 'Help is on the way, help is coming'.

"The car was bobbing in the water, then all of a sudden the nose went down and it dived to the bottom and then there was silence.

"It was traumatic and heartrending the scenes inside the car.

"It was a shock and I think I just managed an hour's sleep. I can't close my eyes, it is desperate.

"I had hoped maybe, maybe that they could have all been saved, especially when the wee baby was saved, but it wasn't to be, even though everything that could have been done was done.

"They came together and I suppose they have gone home together - but that's not much comfort."

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