The Lough Swilly RNLI crew has spoken of the dramatic race against time to reach those who lost their lives in the Buncrana pier tragedy.
Crew member and public relations officer Joe Joyce said many of the crew had been left deeply affected after the bodies were recovered from the waters around the pier on Sunday night.
Mr Joyce confirmed that the driver’s window was smashed and the boot open when the car was located, with three of those recovered having been outside the vehicle.
He revealed that the crews had been carrying out training exercises in the locality all day alongside the Coastguard helicopter.
Mr Joyce told the Derry Journal: “We had just finished up that exercise and gone home and the helicopter had returned to Sligo, and literally some of the crews were still in the cars when the call came in. We got a call there was a car that had gone off the pier with people and kids in the water.
“The response was very quick, about three minutes. Arriving on scene we launched three boats. As that was happening the car had slid down the pier, they had managed to get an infant out through the window of the car to a man who was here on the pier. He had stripped down to his underwear and he entered the water, great person he was too himself. His quick actions there actually saved that child’s life.
“When he came back in he was pretty far through, he couldn’t enter the water again. At this stage the car had drifted about 60 yards off the pier and had landed in about 10 foot of water.”
Mr Joyce said the waters were at half-tide and the water temperatures quite cold at six or seven degrees. Each of the three boats launched recovered one of the people who was in the car and CPR was commenced as they were brought back to the shore, before the RNLI headed back out again.
Mr Joyce said: “One of our crew members then donned a snorkel and dived into the water and located the car and then we removed two other people from the car.
“We had 27 people here, there were numerous ambulances, numerous fire tenders from Buncrana and from Derry, paramedics and lots of different guards. Fr Walsh appeared on the pier here to give the last rites.
“Two members of two local diving clubs arrived, they got kitted up and secured a rope around the vehicle and then with the aid of the fire engine the vehicle was pulled from the water.”
Many of the crew are still trying to come to terms with what happened.
“It’s still very hard to comprehend this. We train for this but no amount of training can prepare you for this.
“A lot of our crews have young families and they are in a pretty bad way today.
“It is particularly distressing to see children, and knowing that a couple of minutes before they were full of life.
“Buncrana is a beautiful place, the pier and the water is always a magnet for people and it is a very popular thing to do come down to the pier, turn and look out, there’s beautiful sunsets.”
Mr Joyce added that the tragedy would have unfolded very quickly.
“We’re not talking minutes, we are talking seconds,” he said. “Once that car started sliding down the pier the weight of the engine would have pulled it on in. It was facing nose first.
“They just got caught in that algae, there was nothing they could do. Braking would just accelerate it forward.”