Northern Ireland

Buncrana pier tragedy: 'Everyone felt it personally'

The five victims of the drowning tragedy Image copyright Other
Image caption The victims were, from left, Mark McGrotty, 12, and Evan McGrotty, 8, Sean McGrotty, 49, Ruth Daniels, 57, and Jodie Lee Daniels, 14

There are some tragedies that really stick in the mind and the Buncrana pier tragedy is one of them.

It was the suddenness and swiftness of it, the devastating loss of life and the heroics.

Exactly one year ago, Buncrana in County Donegal became the focus of international media attention after a car rolled into Lough Swilly from the slipway.

The six people in the car had simply stopped to watch the sunset - which is renowned in that part of the world - but the car slipped on algae which had built up over the winter.

Image copyright PA

Francis Crawford, who raised the alarm, says his recollections are as "vivid" as the night it happened.

"It was like 9/11 that night - with the fire service, the lifeboat, the guards, the ambulances, the helicopter above," he said.

"It was a recovery mission when the services arrived. The car had gone, the people were gone. You cannot go there. If you start to think about it, you try to put it to the side and say a prayer for the people."

Image caption Mr Crawford said he prayed for the McGrotty and Daniels families every day

He recalled speaking to Sean McGrotty through an open window as the car was going in. The 49-year-old died alongside a woman and three children.

The relationship between them is best explained through Londonderry woman Louise James, who was in England at the time of the accident - she lost her partner Mr McGrotty, their two sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight.

The woman was her mum Ruth Daniels, 57, and the other child was her sister Jodie Lee Daniels, 14.

But the sixth occupant of the car survived - Mr McGrotty managed to pass their four-month-old daughter, Rionaghac-Ann, through the window to passer-by Davitt Walsh who stripped off and ran into the freezing water.

'Felt it personally'

Mr Crawford, who was visiting the pier with his wife, Kay, said it had been a difficult year and his heart was still "sore" and full of "great sadness".

He said he had received "great attention from the medical profession, counselling, the local church" and it was an "ongoing process".

He heaped praise on the emergency services and the dignity of Ms James, who he described as a "real hero".

"How she is coping is a wonder to everyone and a great example of how in the face of the greatest adversity, you can survive," he said.

Image caption Mr McCarter said the RNLI crews had met Ms James on several occasions

John McCarter, RNLI lifeboat operations manager for Lough Swilly, said his first recollection of the "freak accident" was the pagers going off after 18:00 GMT - the crews had been out on an exercise all day and had just got home.

"As it very quickly unfolded, there was a major disaster happening at the pier," he said. "Virtually all our crew came out at very short notice and started to get into the process of some kind of rescue."

He said Buncrana pier was their "home" and the crews were "dumbfounded" by what had happened on their doorstep.

The emergency services, the whole community "felt it personally", he added.

Image caption Megan Grant said they were remembering Jodie-Lee by trying hard in school

The young victims are being remembered by friends and pupils on this first anniversary of their deaths.

Students at St Mary's College, where Jodie-Lee was a pupil, held a mass and placed hearts on a tree.

Ellen Glackin said she was still processing the fact she had "really gone", while Megan Grant said the year group had pulled together.

"We know that Jodie would not want us to be thinking about it all the time," she said. "She was beautiful and happy, and was the type of girl who would make you smile at any time".

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