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'Save my baby': Buncrana father went back into car to try to rescue his family

Davitt Walsh recalls how Seán McGrotty handed his baby daughter to him before tragedy struck.

THE MAN WHO rescued a four-month old baby – the only survivor of last night’s tragedy on Buncrana – has spoken of those harrowing moments on the pier before five people lost their lives.

Davitt Walsh has been hailed a hero for jumping into the water after the McGrotty family’s vehicle slipped off the pier.

Speaking to RTÉ News, the former League of Ireland footballer revealed that the 49-year-old father of three could have saved himself but decided to return to the jeep to attempt to rescue his family.

“It was terrible. I was out there. I was swimming. I didn’t know how I was going to help or what was going to happen. The baby was handed to me. When it happened, the father looked at me and he had to make a decision. He could have saved himself because he was out of the car. But he went back into his family. I couldn’t do nothing else. The car went down instantly,” he told reporter Tommy Gorman.

The younger child was trying to get out the back. The father knew – deep down – he knew I was only going to be able to save one person. The last thing he said, he handed it to me and said, ‘Save the baby’. He went back and stayed with his family and the car just disappeared.

Walsh and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox were on the scene at 7.30pm yesterday when the vehicle entered the water.

Seán McGrotty was travelling with his daughter Rionaghac-Ann, sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her daughter Jodie Lee-Daniels (14).

“I looked and seen the car and so we went down to help straight away. We got out of the car and there was a guy there, I think his name was Francis, he said, ‘Ring the coast guard, ring the coast guard’. I took my phone and gave it to my girlfriend,” recalled Walsh, who added that the distressed family were all shouting for help.

I just didn’t really think, Stephie said go and help them. So I took off my clothes down to my boxers and just swam out as fast as I could.

“I got out to the family. Just when I got out there, the father had the window just half ajar, he was hitting it with his elbow to break it. I’m guessing the electrics broke.

I started shouting, ‘Please, everyone has to get out of the car. The car’s going to go down. Please get out.’

“At this stage the window was broke and the father sat out on the ledge of the window. The water started to seep in. He then handed me the baby infant. He said, ‘Take the baby’. I took the baby. He just looked at me, ‘Save my baby’.

“I took the baby and I held it above my head and swam back to shore. And that’s what happened.”

Walsh brought the baby to the shore where his girlfriend stripped her down and covered her with blankets.

“I was exhausted on the pier. I just lay there in the algae,” he added. “I feel really really terrible that I couldn’t do more for the family. It’s just an awful tragedy.”

Walsh, aged 29, was treated in hospital for shock and injuries to his feet which he said he cut while entering and exiting the water.

Formerly of Finn Harps, Bohemians, Shelbourne, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery, he now plays for Ulster Senior League club Fanad United.

Frank McGrotty, brother of Seán, thanked Walsh for his actions.

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“Seán doted on the two of them [Mark and Evan]. They just had a baby girl as well, and thank God she survived.

“I want to thank the man who saved her,” he told RTÉ News.

“I don’t know your name, Sir, but you’re a hero in this family’s eyes.”

The brother also revealed that the family had buried his sister eight months ago after she lost her battle with cancer.

“We buried our sister eight months ago. And my mother died two or three years ago. We were all still basically in mourning for my sister. And… this has devastated the whole family. We are now totally in shock and dismay. I don’t know how we’re going to come back from this one.”

Originally published 6.35pm

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