Belfast Telegraph

Buncrana pier tragedy rescuers could not open family's car doors, hearing told

By Stephen Maguire

A pre-inquest hearing into the Buncrana pier tragedy, in which five members of the same Londonderry family tragically drowned, has heard that first responders could not open the car's doors.

Sean McGrotty, his sons and two other relatives died after their Audi Q7 slipped into Lough Swilly in Co Donegal on March 20 last year.

The victims drowned in the water after the vehicle slid on slimy algae, moving down the slipway and into the harbour.

A full inquest into the tragedy is due to take place at Buncrana Courthouse in November.

However, a pre-evidential hearing yesterday heard how a report by Volkswagen Ireland had disclosed that first responders could not open the vehicle's doors when they arrived at the scene.

The issue was raised by barrister Keith O'Grady, who is acting on behalf of insurer Allianz for the late Mr McGrotty. Addressing the hearing, Mr O'Grady outlined a number of issues he wanted to address before the beginning of the formal inquest.

He said he would be fully reviewing the report claiming first responders could not open the vehicle's doors, as well as reports by Donegal County Council into its piers and slipways and others by the Road Safety Authority and the Irish Water Safety Authority.

Mr O'Grady asked coroner Denis McCauley to release all 57 draft witness depositions, calling the case "most unfortunate and unusual". "We have to ensure that something like this never happens again," he added.

"The when and where will not be an issue, but the how and surrounding circumstances will be an issue here.

"I feel this is a case if ever there was a case for a more extensive disclosure than you may be prepared to grant.

"I need to hear what the people on the scene heard, saw and what the condition of the place was."

Mr McCauley said he was usually quite liberal with allowing depositions for an inquest.

Those who lost their lives were Sean McGrotty, his sons Mark (11) and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey (15).

Mr McGrotty's baby Rionaghac-Ann was saved when her father passed her out of the window to local man Davitt Walsh, who bravely swam out to the sinking car.

Belfast Telegraph

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