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People need to be warned of risks at harbours, inquest told

Floral tributes were left at Buncrana Pier in the days after the March 2016 tragedy. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

AN inquest into the Buncrana pier tragedy has heard the driver of the car that plunged into the water, killing five family members from Derry, was three times over the drink-drive limit.

Pathologist Dr Catriona Dillon told the inquest in Buncrana, Co Donegal that Sean McGrotty (49) was found to have consumed 159 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, when the drink drive limit is only 50.

Evan McGrotty, aged eight, died alongside his father Sean, 12-year-old brother Mark, grandmother Ruth Daniels (59), and her 14-year-old daughter, Jodie Lee Daniels, when their SUV sank after sliding off an algae-covered slipway in Buncrana in March 2016.

Dr Dillon said: “I cannot say what level of impairment the driver had, that depends on was he habitual, was he accustomed”.

The only survivor was baby Ríoghnach, who was rescued when former footballer Davitt Walsh swam into the freezing waters of Lough Swilly in an effort to save the six occupants of the car.

The children’s mother, Louise James, was attending a hen weekend in Liverpool when the tragedy happened. Mr Walsh told yesterday’s inquest he nearly managed to save one of the young boys.

“I saw a young boy inside the car trying to clamber out past the driver,” he said.

“I reached in and grabbed the wee boy, I tried to pull the wee boy out but he seemed to get stuck on something.

Buncrana pier victims Mark McGrotty (12) and Evan McGrotty (eight), Sean McGrotty (48), Ruth Daniels (57) and Jodie Lee Daniels (14) died when their car slid into Lough Swilly in March 2016.

“When the driver sat on the window ledge I remember the car tilted and the water then started to gush into the car.

“Just as I was trying to pull the wee boy out of the car the water rushed in and I had to let go.

“The father climbed back into the car, looked back at me and said ‘save my baby’.

Mr McGrotty handed his four-monthold daughter Ríoghnach to Mr Walsh through the broken driver’s side window just moments before the vehicle sank.

Mr Walsh said: “It was like a wave rushing in... it gushed in.” When he made it back to the slipway and handed the baby to his girlfriend, he collapsed with exhaustion and had to be helped from the slippery surface.

“I could hardly breathe, I was so tired,” he said. Mr Walsh was later treated in hospital for cuts to his feet. Earlier eye witness Francis Crawford said the car was floating up to 15 yards from the slipway by the time the emergency services arrived.

“I could still hear people and the child screaming from the car, all the time the car must have been taking on water,” he said. “I was hoping that the emergency services would arrive and the car would not go down.”

“I could hear sirens, the nose of the car dipped... and the car sank to the bottom.”

Green algae had covered the slipway at the time of the tragedy. John Leech, chief executive of Irish Water Safety said people need to be warned of potential risks at harbours.

“Slipways are used for ferries, and bringing your car on to a slipway is a dangerous thing to do and should not be done.”

He said safety information should be displayed to warn tourists and others at Buncrana that they may slip.

“Whatever actions we take should be proportionate to that risk, that we should be seen to do everything that is reasonable to prevent accidents,” he said

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