Co Donegal digger driver spent 24 hours clearing debris from Creeslough explosion until last victim was recovered
A CO Donegal digger driver has told of how he spent 24 hours clearing debris from the site of the Creeslough explosion until the last victim was recovered.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the tragedy, Henry Gallagher said "you just see a river of high vis vests (behind me) and I know that among that, there are families waiting on news".
Ten people lost their lives in the blast at a service station in the village on October 7 2022.
In the opening programme of a new current affairs series, Iniúchadh TG4, Mr Gallagher reveals how he remained in the cab of his excavator and did not stop until he had uncovered the last body, that of Leona Harper (14).
The 47-year-old from Treantagh, near Letterkenny, said he was spurred on by the sight of grieving relatives in his rear view mirrors.
"The only way that they are going to get the news of a loved one being taken out, is for me to get in," he said.
"I wanted them out. I would have stayed in that digger for ages after that just until I got the bodies out."
The digger driver volunteered to take part in the recovery operation following a plea for help by the Fire Brigade at the scene of the explosion.
"One of the lead firemen came up to me and described that there’s so many bodies inside, and we can’t get at them'', he said.
He worked for 24 hours removing rubble from the collapsed building.
"I done what any other person would have done," he said.
"The ordinary people were amazing. I mean I’ve heard stories of people running in to the building, people bringing other people out of the building. They were taking people out and they were crying (and) they were screaming.
"Any person we took out, wasn’t crying or screaming."
The documentary called Iniúchadh TG4 - An Craoslach investigates how locals from the Donegal village came together in the immediate aftermath of the explosion to pick through the rubble of Lafferty’s garage to rescue their neighbours before the emergency services arrived on the scene.
Lorry driver Colin Kilpatrick from Raphoe, who was making a delivery in Creeslough witnessed the explosion and was among the first rescuers at the garage forecourt, helping free one of the injured by using a car jack to lift concrete slabs.
"People got out and people didn’t get out, but what we done, worked," he said.
The victims were Shauna Flanagan Garwe (5) and her father Robert Garwe (50), Catherine O'Donnell (39) and her son James Monaghan (13), Leona Harper (14), Jessica Gallagher (24), James O'Flaherty (48), Martin McGill (49), Martina Martin (49) and Hugh Kelly (59).
Gardaí are still investigating the cause of the blast.
A gas explosion remains a major line of inquiry.
The programme is the first of a six-part monthly current affairs and investigative documentary series looking behind the headlines of major Irish news stories.
Belfast-based investigative journalist Kevin Magee, who presents the series, said: "At the time of tragic event in Creeslough, we heard about the extraordinary bravery and courage of the first wave of rescuers, local people who ran to help their trapped neighbours before the emergency services got there.
"This programme gives the ordinary people who helped a voice and hears in their own words the extraordinary things they did, often at great danger to themselves in the face of appalling adversity."
It comes as a concert was held in Letterkenny on Monday to thank the emergency services personnel who worked at the scene of the explosion.
Around 1,500 people, including relatives of those who died and emergency service workers, attended The Together for Creeslough event, which began with the names of the deceased read aloud.
The concert was hosted by Moya Brennan of Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan with Boyzlife stars Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy, singers Brian Kennedy, Mickey Joe Harte and The Whistlin' Donkeys among the performers.
:: Iniúchadh TG4 airs on TG4 on February 8 at 9.30pm and will be available on the TG4 Player.