Northern Ireland

Inquest finds drowning of father and son who were fishing in Co Donegal was accidental

Jacob Christian (17) and Jonathon Christian (53) both died after fishing on June 18, 2020.
Jacob Christian (17) and Jonathon Christian (53) both died after fishing on June 18, 2020.

An inquest has found that the drowning of a father and son in a Co Donegal lake was accidental.

Jonathon Christian (53) and his son Jacob Christian (17) both died at Lough Keel, close to Kilmacrennan, on June 18 2020.

A younger son Benjamin (15) had also been on the small boat but managed to survive.

The inquest heard how the family who lived on the Isle of Man had been enjoying day fishing when they got into difficulty.

Most of the details had already emerged during an initial inquest at Letterkenny Courthouse, but the hearing was postponed after Jonathon’s wife Eileen expressed concerns about his mental health and ability to look after his sons.

Previous testimony from the youngest son heard how difficulties first emerged when Jacob entered the water to try and retrieve a bait box.

With a ripple in the water pushing the bucket further away, the father had called for him to come back but Jacob was not able to.

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After trying to throw a life ring, Jonathan and Benjamin both entered the water to try and save him.

It is reported that Benjamin said :"I started to go down and dad helped me back onto the rocks. I looked back out and both were gone.”

Another witness who looks after the pump house at Lough Keel, Declan Foley, said he later found Benjamin sitting on the rocks.

With his head down and no top, shoes or socks, Mr Foley said he was crying and asking for help, stating: “I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t save them. They went under.”

With a depth of water around 1.8m at this point, the court heard how it was much deeper beyond this point.

Mulroy Coast Guard officer Roisin McBride said she was called at 2.56pm that day for help, with a boat launched by 3.26pm.

A recovery operation saw four teams of two search the shoreline while a rescue helicopter from Sligo arrived shortly.

Jonathon’s body was recovered by 3.59pm, while Jacob’s body was discovered by 6.38pm.

A post-mortem determined the cause of death to be drowning, while no trace of drugs or alcohol were found in their system.

After reopening the inquest, Donegal Coroner Dr Denis McCauley spoke of how Jonathon had filmed the trip on his phone and unknowingly captured some of the final moments before setting the phone on the rocks.

Describing the traumatic images as “unpleasant to watch but helpful,” he said it confirmed that father and son had died as a result of an accident.

On the issue of Mr Christian’s mental health, he noted that he had previously been admitted as an involuntary patient under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act on May 8 2020, remaining under inpatient care until June 2, 2020.

He was prescribed olanzapine, but the medication did not show up in toxicology tests.

Mrs Christian had been concerned there may have been restrictions imposed on him in terms of travel and spending time with his children.

The inquest heard that no formal restrictions had actually been placed on him by the hospital.

Over a week before the tragedy, Garda Ciaran Langan told the inquest he had carried out a welfare check at the family’s Donegal property on June 10 but found no issues.

The coroner said his state of mind on June 18 was unknown, but found his decision to take his two sons fishing on a lake was “normal”.

"A father and two sons went to go fishing and a small incident escalated into a terrible tragedy,” he said.

"The presence of the video is incredibly sad and upsetting, but it does give a view of what happened.”

Without the video, he said he circumstances could have been concerning, but that he was satisfied in finding it had been an accident.