Belfast Telegraph

Brother's tribute to Annette Preston who drowned during her family's sailing holiday on Lough Erne

By Claire McNeilly

The brother of a mother-of-two who drowned after falling into Lough Erne with her husband during a boating holiday has spoken of his family's anguish over her tragic death.

Thomas Sharkey lost his beloved sister Annette Preston after she fell overboard while trying to reach a jetty in an accident in Enniskillen shortly before 3am on Saturday.

Mrs Preston's husband Steven screamed for help and was pulled from the water to safety by a man who dived in after the couple, but he was unable to save the 49-year-old woman from Clanabogan, Co Tyrone.

Mr Sharkey said Annette, who was the youngest of three siblings and a very experienced sailor, lived for her husband, daughter and son and loved holidaying as a family on their boat.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of her funeral today, the 50-year-old caretaker said that everyone was finding it extremely difficult to come to terms with the shocking tragedy.

"We're devastated; you don't expect to go on your holiday and have an accident like that," Mr Sharkey said.

"Annette, Stevie and the children went down to their boat on Lough Erne regularly.

"They loved their boat and they went down most weekends during holiday time and travelled around. They had 20 years' experience.

"We're not bearing up too well at the minute; it's a very sensitive time, but accidents happen."

Mr Sharkey, who found out what had happened in the early hours of Saturday when the police notified him, said it was hard to find words to describe the darkness that had engulfed them.

"I've lost my sister," he said. "They're a nice family and lovely family people.

"She loved her daughter Stephanie and son Andrew and they all loved their holidaying."

The Co Tyrone couple fell into Lough Erne as they were attempting to get from their boat to the pier at the Round 'O' Jetty in Enniskillen.

"Their boat was a little higher than the jetty and like always Stevie had taken Annette by the hand to help guide her over," said Mr Sharkey, who has an older sister, Paula (53).

"She lost her footing and slipped into the water, taking Stevie with her. Stevie was able to come up for a second and call for help.

"Fortunately there was a man nearby who jumped in and pulled Stevie to safety.

"He went back in for Annette and tried his best to get her, but he couldn't."

Mr Sharkey said that Steven is devastated by the loss of his wife and best friend, who also leaves behind their children - 17-year-old Stephanie and Andrew, who is 15. "Annette was a loving mother who had all the time in the world for her children and her husband," he said.

"She was a simple and quiet woman. She was a mother and housewife who lived for her family." He added: "Annette and Steven loved caravanning and sailing and they loved Lough Erne. They even had plans to sail the Shannon later this year."

Mr Sharkey thanked the emergency services and said that they could have been faced with two deaths had it not been for the man who desperately tried to save his sister.

He said: "If it weren't for him we could be dealing with the loss of Stevie as well, and for that we have to thank him."

Mrs Preston was taken to the South West Acute hospital in the early hours of Saturday but died shortly afterwards. Her funeral will take place at 11am today at St Mary's Church, Drumragh.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for the compulsory wearing of life jackets - which isn't currently a legal requirement in Northern Ireland - while on or near water, following the tragedy.

UUP MLA Rosemary Barton extended her sympathies to Mrs Preston's loved ones and appealed to everyone to be "particularly careful around water", adding: "this tragic accident must be a warning about the dangers of getting on and off boats."

Co Donegal mother-of-two Luna Mc Kinney (35) also drowned in the lough in April, having fallen overboard without a life jacket.

Belfast Telegraph

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