Belfast Telegraph

Donegal tragedy: Mum returns from hen weekend to learn of deaths of husband, two children, mother and sister

Mother rushed to be with only survivor, her four-month-old baby girl

A young mother returned from a weekend break to the horrific discovery that her husband, two children mother and sister had been killed in the Buncrana pier tragedy.

Sean McGrotty, 46, his sons Mark (12), Evan (8) his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57) and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie Lee Daniels died when their Audi car slipped into the water.

Crowdfunding raises thousands for family of Buncrana pier tragedy victims 

The family were on a day trip to Buncrana, Co Donegal when their Audi Q7 car slid off a slip way into Lough Swilly on Sunday evening.

The only survivor was four-month-old baby girl Rionaghac-Ann.

She was rescued by a bystander who stripped down and swam out to the sinking car.

Louise, Mr McGrotty's wife, had been away on a hen weekend and rushed to be beside her daughter's side at Letterkenny hospital on Sunday night. The girl is said to be "doing well" in hospital.

Read more: Donegal tragedy: Brother's 'unspeakable heartbreak' as five family members are killed in Buncrana - Sean McGrotty dies alongside sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), partner's mum Ruth Daniels and her daughter Jean

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who visited the scene in Buncrana after visiting the grieving mother in Derry, said there were no words to sum up her heartache.

"I have just come from meeting a young woman who has lost her partner, her two sons, her mother and her sister and it is a very, very sad house," he said.

"Truly heartbreaking, mind numbing and shocking beyond belief."

He said the family were in a total state of shock.

"They are absolutely heartbroken," he said.

The mother's brother, Joshua played for Derry City.

Philip O'Doherty, chairman of the club said: "On behalf of the Board of Directors, the Manager, the staff and the players of Derry City I want to express our shock and sadness at the tragedy that happened in Buncrana on Sunday night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Daniels and McGrotty families in this most painful time.

"Our thoughts are especially with our colleague and team mate Josh Daniels who has been with this club since he was a boy. We are conscious of the depth of his loss.
"Inadequate as it is, everyone at the club wants to assure him that they will be with him in the coming days and, more importantly, in the weeks and months that lie ahead."

Gardai are treating the deaths - one of the worst to hit the Inishowen area of Donegal - as a tragic accident.

The family are from Derry, with one of Ms Daniels' sons, Joshua, playing for Derry City FC.

The Audi car driven by Mr McGrotty is believed to have been turning at the end of the pier in Buncrana when the wheels failed to grip.

The slipway structure, used by vehicles to access a ferry back and forth across Lough Swilly to Rathmullan in the summer, is prone to a build-up of thick algae.

Emergency rescue crews, including local RNLI lifeboats based on the Swilly, were on the scene within minutes of the alarm being raised by a passer-by.

Eyewitness Francis Crawford said he watched Mr McGrotty scream for help as the Audi slid in to the sea off the pier.

"The man was still shouting to me when the car went down. It was very sad," he said. "There was nothing I could do, or nothing anybody could do."

Mr Crawford said he pleaded with another passerby to swim out to the car as it edged, nose first, into deeper water.

The man from Kerrykeel, Co Donegal, stripped down to his underwear to take the baby from the car just as it drifted off the slipway and began to sink in about 12 feet of freezing water.

"How he got (the baby) ... they are saying it was handed out to him," Mr Crawford said.

"When he came back he was totally exhausted. I think if he had another five yards to go - I can't see how he would have made it."

Mr Crawford said he was a hero who had risked his life.

The pier is a very popular scenic spot, with hundreds of day-trippers visiting the area from Derry city and the north west every weekend.

Mr Crawford broke down in tears recalling the final moments, and three of the occupants drowning after freeing themselves from the car.

"It was harrowing and heart-rending," he said.

"I don't want to go into details."

A book of condolences is to open in Derry in coming days.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Elisha McCallion said: "This is a terrible tragedy that has affected the entire community in Derry and Donegal and left all of us numb.

"Who would have thought that a family day out could have ended so tragically? It is beyond belief and I can't put into words how sorry I am for the family and those affected by this dreadful accident."

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown is to spend time with the family this afternoon.

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney requested that the media respect the family's wishes for privacy.

"Our families have been devastated by the tragic events of last night in which five members of our family died in a terrible accident.

"The family has been inundated with support and sympathy from the local community and further afield and this is deeply appreciated.

"We are now requesting that the media respect our familes’ wishes for privacy at this time."

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