The Buncrana man who was the first to phone emergency services on Sunday night has told how “every effort was made” to save the family but “the time was too short”.
Francis Crawford spoke to the Derry Journal yesterday at Buncrana pier, and told how Sean McGrotty shouted for him to “phone the coastguard” as his vehicle went into the water.
An emotional Mr Crawford said he visits the pier most evenings, and on Sunday evening noticed a vehicle “off the edge of the pier”.
He said: “I said to my wife: ‘If those people don’t come back, they’re not going to be able to get a grip on the pier. There’s a lot of algae down there and if you didn’t know it, you’d slip.
“Even when you’re walking you’d land on your back very quick. I asked the man: ‘Are you ok?’ and he shouted: ‘Phone the coastguard, phone the coastguard. I rang Malin Head (coastguard radio station) and within a minute all services were on their way.
“A man came over from Kerrykeel and I said to him: ‘Can you swim?’ He said ‘Yes’ and I said; ‘Please, please, please.’ He took off all his clothes down to his underwear. He went out and came back in with the wee baby.
“All the time, water is coming into the car. I was hoping the car would stay afloat but alas, then the nose started to go down a bit and the lot started to go under the water – silence.”
Mr Crawford said he couldn’t sleep on Sunday night, describing the deaths as “harrowing and heart-rending”.
When asked how he felt, he replied: “Desperate.”
He said: “The services arrived and you hoped somebody might have found an air pocket but it wasn’t to be. A couple of people were out of the car at that stage in the water.
“I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed at 4.30am and I was up at 5.30am. I’ve grandchildren of my own. The whole thing is just harrowing and heart-rending.”
Mr Crawford said the man from Kerrykeel “put everything at risk” to save baby Rionaghac-Ann.
‘He was shouting: ‘Take the baby, take the baby.’ He was totally exhausted and he was very, very brave.”
Mr Crawford also commended the emergency services, stating “nobody could have done any more”.