Witness describes harrowing scene at Buncrana pier tragedy

The scene at Buncrana today (Pic: Irish Independent)
The scene at Buncrana today (Pic: Irish Independent)

An eyewitness to a horrific tragedy has described how he felt "hopeless" as a man shouted from the window of a car that was slowly going underwater.

Two adults and three children died and a two-month-old infant was rescued after their car plunged into the sea off a pier in Buncrana, Co Donegal last night.

Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, an eyewitness has described the "surreal" experience as he phoned emergency services and watched the car slip into the water.

The horrific incident happened in Buncrana around 7.15pm at a popular Wild Atlantic Way stop-off point for tourists wanting to watch the sun set over Lough Swilly.

"Myself and my wife came out for a run as we do, we love looking out over the Swilly," Mr Francis Crawford said.

"We came down this way and went down by the pier as we always do. It's nice to sit there and watch people come and go.

"There's always lots of people on the slipway.

"But the bottom of the slipway is full of green algae and if you go down too far... even people that went down to help yesterday were slipping and falling. It's like ice, that's how slippy it is."

Mr Crawford said alarm bells started ringing when he noticed how far down the slipway one particular car was.

"I said to my wife, I hope that car doesn't go back any further, they won't be able to get a grip on the cement.

"I screamed down and asked 'are you alright?'.

"A man leaned out and shouted at me to ring the coastguard.

"I phoned 999 and got through immediately and explained that there was a car in the water and it had a family in it and it's going to sink, come as quick as you can, I said, as quick as you can."

Mr Crawford asked a passer-by, from Kerrykeel, could he swim. He described how the man stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the water.

"He slipped off to his underwear and great that he did, he came back with a wee baby. I didn't know how he got it, he said it was handed out the window to him.

"He was totally exhausted, I'd say if there was another five yards he wouldn't have made it.

"He was taken to hospital then with cuts and different things, so heroic.

"And all this time the car was bobbing around," he continued.

"I was hoping against hope, hoping against hope that the services were on their way. I shouted to the man in the car that help was coming and I think the baby being gone gave them hope.

"I was hoping against hope the car would stay and I was watching the car and it started to dip and all of a sudden it just went down, the whole car and everything stopped.

"It was harrowing, heartrending, I don't want to go into detail...," he said as he became emotional.

The Coast Guard 118 Rescue helicopter, RNLI lifeboat crews from Lough Swilly and Greencastle, ambulance crews and gardaí all took part in the search and rescue operation.

But by 9pm it was clear that there were no other survivors.

"I'm feeling hopeless and helpless, there was nothing I could do. That man was shouting at me and I was saying 'they're on their way, they're on their way, everybody's coming'.

"The car just went down and that was it, all over.

"I couldn't have imagined it.

"I felt so hopeless, watching it unfolding it in front of your eyes.

"It was surreal, we go down here all the time, we go down to the pier, there's always people coming and going."

Gardaí sealed off the scene and a full investigation into the tragedy will begin at dawn today.

The bodies of the two adults and the three children were taken to Letterkenny hospital, where post mortems are expected to be carried out today.

Via Independent