Be careful... partner's last words to reservoir plunge rally driver
The girlfriend of a rally driver who was killed during a race told him to "have fun and be careful" shortly before his car plunged into a Co Down reservoir, an inquest heard yesterday.
Gemma McGarry spoke of how her world fell apart when her "soulmate" Ryan Bradley lost his life in the accident during the Down Rally last year.
She said the 27-year-old from Kilrea, Co Antrim, was "like a kid on Christmas morning" with excitement before the rally. The promising driver drowned when he was unable to escape his blue Ford Escort after it left the Lackan Road, beside Lough Island Reavy reservoir near Kilcoo.
The vehicle sank into the deep water before resting on the driver's side.
His co-driver and navigator Gerard Mullan escaped the submerged car and raised the alarm after swimming to safety.
Mr Mullan threw his helmet on to the road, which caused cars coming after them to stop while he lay on the bank gasping for air.
Shocked and clearly distressed, he told fellow competitors who came to the rescue: "He's dead, he's in the water, he's dead."
Coroner Brian Sherrard heard that the accident happened on the first stage of the final session of the rally, where Ryan was in pole position.
Questions were raised on the first day of the inquest over the lack of a drivers' briefing ahead of the start of the race, the possibility of standing water at the corner where the car left the road, and the emergency services' response procedure.
Ms McGarry said that she and Ryan's mother Sharon had initially thought that he might be rescued when they heard his car had ended up in the reservoir on October 18.
"It never crossed my mind that Ryan was going to die.
"I believed it was a rescue operation, not a recovery (operation)," she said.
"My world fell apart that day. I felt I couldn't live without him. He was everything to me, he was my future, my soulmate."
She said that the couple had planned to marry in 2017 and had just had a mortgage application approved to buy their first home together.
The young man was competing in the same race as his older brother Kevin and his family were at the event, organised by the Rathfriland Motor Club.
The inquest was told that the accident happened at a sharp right-hand bend, one-and-a-half miles along the road after the rally car had left the start line at 10.56am.
Conditions that day were said to be dry and clear, but overnight rain had left some areas of the course with patches of standing water.
Instead of doing a reconnaisance with Mr Bradley as normal ahead of a race, Ms McGarry went with her partner and noted down his observations on the pace notes. Neither had noted down the location of the reservoir alongside the route.
An emotional Mr Mullan told the inquest that he thought he was going to die when their car left the Lackan Road and plunged into the reservoir.
He said: "In my view, the car didn't make the corner. It went through the branches and into the water.
"I loosened my seatbelt and took a gulp of water and thought: 'This is it. I'm going to die'."
Another issue was raised concerning a report - which is to be compiled by the sport's governing body, the Motor Sports Association - into the incident being available to be considered by the inquest.
The coroner was told that the report should be ready within two weeks.
Ryan, of Drumsaragh Road, Kilrea, worked as a transport manager in the family quarry business.
He was the second driver to die in a matter of months following an accident during the Ulster Rally in August 2014 that claimed the life of Timothy Cathcart.
The inquest was adjourned to a future date, to allow time for the MSA report to be completed and considered by coroner Brian Sherrard.