Belfast Telegraph

2,000 suicide bids in Foyle prevented by rescue squad

By Brendan McDaid

Northern Ireland's senior coroner has expressed his amazement at the thousands of people who have been stopped from possible drowning in the River Foyle.

Coroner John Leckey was speaking during the second of two inquests into the deaths of two men who died after they went into the river.

Local charity Foyle Search and Rescue revealed at Londonderry Coroner's Court yesterday that they had prevented over 2,000 people from entering the river since the charity was founded 18 years ago. A further 245 people have been pulled from the river, while 90 bodies have been recovered over the same period.

In the past year alone there were 37 emergency responses, the latest on Tuesday night involving a young man.

The statistics were revealed by Paddy Wilson, co-ordinator and founding member of Foyle Search and Rescue, at the inquest into the death of 49-year-old Michael John Paul Finnegan from Damien House Hostel on the Foyle Road.

The unemployed labourer was pulled from the River Foyle on October 12, 2010, and pronounced dead at Altnagelvin Hospital following efforts to resuscitate him.

Earlier, the coroner heard of the death of a 34-year-old father-of-four, who drowned after drinking and going for a swim.

Sligo-born Charles Ward, whose address was also given as Damien House, drowned shortly after jumping from Craigavon Bridge in the early hours of June 26, 2010.

Speaking after Mr Wilson revealed the volume of people the charity has dealt with, the coroner said he was "surprised at the statistics, more than I would have imagined". He said: "With the River Lagan in Belfast - I may be wrong - it doesn't seem to be the problem it is up here."

Mr Wilson, who said he and other friends set up the rescue service after one of their own friends died by suicide in the river, responded: "I would agree. Prior to Foyle Search and Rescue there were 25 to 30 lives lost every year. We have helped to reduce it."

He also revealed that Derry City Council gives the charity £15,000 a year towards operational costs of £150,000, while the PSNI has donated £50,000 towards the £70,000 bill to fix the service's pontoon at Prehen, which was severely damaged by ice last winter.

The charity is the only one of its kind in Europe relying on donations.

The coroner recorded verdicts of accidental death in both Mr Finnegan's and Mr Ward's cases.

Belfast Telegraph

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