Rostrevor crash: Tranquil scene bears scars of terrible tragedy as locals shocked by full extent of devastation
The sun shone over the majestic Mourne Mountains yesterday across green fields down to a twinkling Carlingford Lough, a scene only made more tranquil by a nearby trickling stream.
But this quiet picture of natural beauty and repose was transformed into a place of unimaginable horror late on Monday night, and one that for two families will now always be associated with the heartbreaking loss of a loved son.
This sleepy rural part of Co Down is best known for the Benedictine Monks' Holy Cross Monastery, which hosts retreats for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life.
But the peace of the area was torn apart by the tragedy, just a few weeks after the area lost another son - Conall Haveron (20), who died after a car crash on the A1 as he travelled from Belfast after starting his second year at Queen's University.
Now it has suddenly lost another two young people.
Three young friends had been travelling in a car along the Kilbroney Road from Hilltown to Rostrevor just before midnight when the drive suddenly turned to a scene beyond nightmares.
Leaving the long, straight road while travelling downhill, their vehicle appears to have careered across a ridge marking the boundary of the front yard of an elderly woman's home. Parts of flowers and petals were left scattered in the wake of the car.
Its progress into a nearby field - some 50 metres from where it first left the road - caused a home heating oil tank to ignite. The resulting blaze was fierce enough for nearby people to believe the incident was a house fire, rather than a car crash.
It is understood that the pensioner who lived there was in another part of the house when the crash happened.
A close relative who lived close by heard the crash and immediately ran across the field between the two houses in the pitch black to what must have been a horrifying scene to rescue her.
Yesterday morning a section of the house sat destroyed, with parts of the roof missing and several windows left blackened.
A stone pillar of the gate at the entrance to the drive way had been flung across the lane, while muddy tracks indicated where the car had left the road.
A group of trees bore charred leaves, marking the spot where the car finally came to a stop in the field.
Several fragments of the vehicle and some tobacco lay across the driveway.
As the Kilbroney Road re-opened around lunchtime many relatives and friends stopped at the house to take stock, many looking visibly shocked.
A bunch of flowers had been left on the roadside.
One relative arrived at the scene and surveyed the damage to the house in silence, looking in the blackened window, clearly taken aback at the sight.
Many who lived in the area appeared to be the very definition of a close-knit community, all too shocked and horrified by the tragedy to speak openly to the media.
Even political representatives could barely express their horror at the tragedy, especially coming on the back of a number of other fatal car crashes.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie was among those left stunned and said the tragedy had sent shockwaves throughout the area,
"Another accident on our roads has left families and friends grieving," she said.
"My thoughts are with them as they begin to grieve."
Mrs Ritchie also spoke in admiration of the firefighters who attended the scene and worked in difficult circumstances.
"Their bravery, as always, was immense and they helped prevent a tragedy becoming worse," she said.