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Tragedy Sole survivor of Donegal sea tragedy relives harrowing last moments of uncle and nephew

Dessie Keenan fought back tears as he recalled the tragic events at a double inquest into the men's deaths

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Dessie Keenan and wife Donna Marie, daughter of Gerry Doherty. Photo: NW Newspix

Dessie Keenan and wife Donna Marie, daughter of Gerry Doherty. Photo: NW Newspix

Dessie Keenan and wife Donna Marie, daughter of Gerry Doherty. Photo: NW Newspix

The only survivor of a sea tragedy which claimed the lives of an uncle and nephew off the coast of County Donegal has relived their harrowing last moments.

Gerry Doherty from Burt and his nephew Thomas Weir from Scotland perished off the Inishowen Peninsula in July, 2018 when their 19ft boat capsized.

Dessie Keenan fought back tears as he recalled the tragic events at a double inquest into the men's deaths at Letterkenny Courthouse.

Mr Keenan, 45, told how he must have been on a hundred trips with his father-in-law Gerry, 63.

He revealed in his evidence how they had loaded up the boat and had been drifting in an out towards the coastline while fishing.

However, their engine failed and they anchored the boat as they tried to restart the engine.

Suddenly the boat began taking on water and Mr Keenan found himself ankle-deep in water and a short time later was up to his knees in water.

He said he saw panic in Mr Doherty's face and he knew they were "in bother."

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Drowning victim Thomas Weir

Drowning victim Thomas Weir

Drowning victim Thomas Weir

 

Gerry Doherty told his nephew to get the three lifejackets and then told Mr Keenan to call the coastguard before the boat suddenly capsized.

Mr Keenan's frantic phonecall pleading for help was connected to the Emergency Call Answering Centre in Navan which was played to the coroner's court.

People wept openly as he was heard pleading on the recording "I need the coastguard, yeah off Malin Head, the boat is sinking, the boat is sinking....."

All three were then thrown into the water.

Neither Mr Keenan or Mr Doherty were wearing a lifejacket but Thomas Weir, 16, had managed to put on a lifejacket.

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Mr Keenan said he managed to hang onto a pink 'fender' floating device connected to the boat.

He said Thomas Weir had circled around the boat three times but was getting further away each time as he tried to shout at him to see how he was.

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Gerry 'Malin' Doherty

Gerry 'Malin' Doherty

Gerry 'Malin' Doherty

 

After a few minutes he realised that his father-in-law Mr Doherty was face-down in the water and was deceased.

Mr Keenan clung to the fender on the capsized boat for hours on end before a passing fisherman, Philip Doherty happened to see him in the water.

He was taken to Port Ronan Pier from where they had left earlier that morning and given medical treatment.

A deposition was given in the name of local woman Veronica Gallagher who said she was out picking winkles on the beach.

At around 4.30pm she noticed a body on the shoreline facedown and noticed it was the body of a man whose t-shirt was up over his back.

She noticed boats out at sea and her husband, who was nearby, waved at them and members of the RNLI came to the shore.

The body was later identified as that of Gerry Doherty.

It was the Coastguard Rescue 118 helicopter, who had been on exercises in the area earlier, who found teenager Thomas Weir at around 4.05pm.

Winchman Kieran Higgins was dropped into the sea and recovered the teen who was wearing a lifejacket and immediately began CPR on him in a bid to keep him alive.

He was rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry where doctors attempted to save his life but he passed away.

A large section of the inquest dealt with the handling of the emergency call between the Emergency Call Answering Services and Malin Head Coastguard Service who coordinated the search.

The call handler at the ECAS centre in Navan who answered the emergency call, Ms Alison Power, gave an overall synopsis of how calls are handled including the specific call on the day.

She told how she asked her supervisor to contact Malin Head Coastguard as she was concerned about the quality of the emergency call.

Now retired, Ms Power said she handled an average of 500 calls each day during her eight and half years working there.

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The Port Ronan pier at Malin Head, from which the boat departed. Photo: North West Newspix

The Port Ronan pier at Malin Head, from which the boat departed. Photo: North West Newspix

The Port Ronan pier at Malin Head, from which the boat departed. Photo: North West Newspix

 

Sean Diver, radio officer at Malin Head Coast Station, took the call from the ECAS centre in Navan.

He gave evidence of receiving the call but told how the call dropped out. He tried a number of times to reconnect but all he received was a message minder from a Dessie Keenan.

He had no further information apart from a man called Dessie Keenan using a UK mobile connecting to a mast in Donegal.

No further action was taken at this time.

However, at 3.30pm a man out walking on a cliff spotted somebody in the water and raised the alarm.

Malin Head Coastguard then began to coordinate a search operation in the area involving the Lough Swilly RNLI, Greencastle Coastguard, the Rescue 118 coastguard helicopter while a mayday was also sent out to all local vessels.

The inquest continues on Thursday.

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