Hero who rescued baby in Buncrana shares father's last words

The scene of the tragedy in Buncrana today
The scene of the tragedy in Buncrana today

THE heroic man who rescued a baby from yesterday's tragic pier accident in Co Donegal has told of the last words the infant's father said to him.

Davitt Walsh heroically dived into the water to try and rescue the family as the car began to sink.

Sean McGrotty (46), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57) and her 15-year-old daughter Jodie Lee, all died after the Audi vehicle slid off the pier.

"I looked out and I could see the distress in the family. The two women and the children were all screaming 'help help help'", he told RTE news.

"I swam out as fast as I could, just as I got out there the father started moving his arm to break the window

"The window broke and the water started to creep in.

"He said 'save my baby'. I took the baby and I had it over my head and I swam out to shore.

"It was terrible. I didn't know what was going to happen. The father looked at me. He could have saved himself, he was out of the car. He went back in to save his family.

"I just feel really terrible I couldn't do anymore for the family.

"The younger child was trying to get out of the back. I think deep down he (dad Sean) knew he was only going to save one person. He went back in to save his family in the car and it disappeared."

Earlier today Father Paddy O'Kane from Holy Family Church in Derry described the tragedy as the worst he had seen in 43 years and said the entire community was struggling to comprehend its magnitude.

Father O'Kane said: "Words fail me to describe the depth of pain and the vastness of this tragedy."

The priest spent much of the morning comforting the distraught family at their home in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry.

He is expected to visit the house again with Catholic Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown and Ken Good, the Church of Ireland Bishop for Derry and Raphoe later.

"I am 43 years a priest and nothing compares to this," he added. "This is way beyond anything in my wildest imagination.

"This is the worst thing I have ever had.

"When I went up there this morning people were just standing around - men were just standing looking at the ground not knowing what to say.

"All you can do is just shake their hand and say 'I'm sorry'. A respectful silence is all I could muster.

"Before I left the house I said the Lords Prayer with everyone to give Louise and her family strength.

"We all knew there was a terrible tragedy that happened in Buncrana last night but we didn't realise it was on our doorstep. Little did I know it was going to come here."

It is understood the family had celebrated eight-year-old Evan's first confession just a fortnight ago and were preparing for his first communion in May.

Baby Rionaghac-Ann, the sole survivor of the accident, was christened in January.

Father O'Kane said: "It was a time of celebration. Little did we think that so soon after we were going to have such a tragedy on our doorstep.

"Two weeks ago little Evan made his first confession here and he was about to make his first communion in May. Little did we think that two weeks ago he wouldn't be here.

"They are inconsolable.

"Louise said to me, 'I have lost everyone, except little Rionaghac-Ann'. She said 'Rionaghac-Ann is my reason to go on'."

Speaking at the scene earlier, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the communities in Derry and Donegal would have to throw their arms around the bereaved family.

Father O'Kane said locals had rallied round.

He said: "People are very good in this parish and they will do all they can to help but what can you do and what can you say."

The funeral, expected to take place on Thursday, is going to be one of the most difficult the priest concluded.

"I have never had to do anything like this before so I hope the Lord gives me the right words to say to give some sort of consolation and peace," he said.

Meanwhile, at the bungalow in St Eithne's Park there was a steady stream of ashen faced visitors.

One man choked back tears as he explained the family were too upset to speak at this stage.