ONE OF THE first gardaí on the scene of the Buncrana Pier tragedy in Co Donegal has told how he had to get down on his knees to stop himself slipping because of the thick algae.
At the inquest into the five deceased today, Garda Seamus Callaghan of Buncrana Garda station described a devastating scene when he arrived on the shores of Lough Swilly on 20 March 2016.
Five members of the same family perished in the tragedy including Sean McGrotty, his sons Mark, 11, and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her teenage daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey.
Callaghan told how when he arrived he saw a woman being given CPR.
He went down the slipway to assist but revealed “I had to get down on my knees to assist because it was just so slippy.”
The area was then sealed off and the pier was cleared to give the deceased some dignity, he added.
He then recalled how he stood and watched as the bodies of the remaining people in the jeep were taken ashore.
“Four more persons were taken from the water and blankets were placed over the bodies. Prayers were said over each of the bodies and a priest blessed the bodies,” he said.
He said he also noticed a woman nursing a baby in a car, a woman he later found out was Stephanie Knox, the girlfriend of Davitt Walsh.
Callaghan added that he also noticed empty baby milk bottles and food cartons as well as a baby bag.
“It was clear that the baby had been very well looked after,” he said.
The inquest at the Lake of Shadows Hotel in Buncrana is expected to conclude today.
Another of today’s witnesses was also one of the first on the scene.
John O’Raw, a computer science lecturer at LYIT and an RNLI volunteer who has been snorkelling for 40 years, told the coroner’s court how he tried to open the doors of the black Audi Q7 jeep after it had slipped off Buncrana Pier.
There was complete silence in the room as he recalled being the first to reach the ill-fated jeep which he estimated was three metres deep.
But he revealed, “I was unable to open the doors. The door handles were giving freely but not engaging with the locking mechanism.”
Dressed in his diving gear, with a body weight and fins on his feet and using a snorkel, O’Raw went about his investigation of the jeep.
Two other personnel were standing on the roof of the vehicle. He said the tailgate of the vehicle was open and that the driver’s window was partially smashed and inverted inwards.
O’Raw had earlier told how his RNLI pager went off at his home at 7.13pm.
He immediately rushed to the pier and was met by colleague Emmet Johnston, briefed on the situation and then he returned home to get his snorkelling gear.
He entered the water at 7.55pm to carry out his investigation which was about 40 minutes after the car first became submerged.
When cross-examined, O’Raw said he was aware of other situations on Buncrana Pier involving vehicles entering the water.
“I’m personally aware of three other incidents which have occurred there in past 17 years,” he said.
It was put to the RNLI rescuer that with the timelapse, it was a recovery mission when he entered the water to investigate the vehicle.
He said, “It’s a rescue mission until the doctor pronounces… we would always see it as an opportunity (to save someone).”
Coroner Dr Denis McCauley paid tribute on a personal level to O’Raw for his actions on the day and to his colleagues also.