Families begin task of bringing loved ones home

PHOTO: The men were struck by a falling concrete slab at the construction site. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)
PHOTO: The men were struck by a falling concrete slab at the construction site. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)

The families of two young men killed on an Australian building site have begun the traumatic task of arranging for the return of their loved ones to Northern Ireland.

Gerry Bradley from the Coleraine area and Joseph McDermott from Omagh are understood to have died when a concrete panel fell on them in Perth on Wednesday morning.

From ABC news: scene of building site tragedy in Perth, Australia

From ABC news: scene of building site tragedy in Perth, Australia

The city’s coroner has halted construction at the site of a new apartment complex while an investigation takes place.

Both men were in their 20s and their employer, JAXON Construction, said: “Our workforce is grieving and our focus is on supporting the families and those affected”.

Despite moving to work in Australia, Mr Bradley had remained a member of Portstewart Golf Club. He was a previous club championship winner and had attended the Darren Clarke Golf School in 2009/2010.

His brother Gregory said he was liked by everyone and the family “can’t believe what has happened.”

A friend of Mr McDermott described him as a “home bird” and a “happy-go-lucky character” who took a big step when he decided leave Omagh.

ABC News journalist Laura Gartry, who reported from the scene, said a witness described how other workers used wooden planks in an attempt to free the trapped men, but believed they were both dead by the time the emergency service arrived at the scene.

Ms Gartry told the BBC: “From what we can understand from talking to witnesses and what the police have said, a large concrete slab of about 10 by 15 metres was being lifted by a crane off a delivery truck.

“It hadn’t got very far off the ground when it fell on two construction workers.

“A witness I spoke to who lives nearby had heard a large crash and came running out to find the two men under the slab - he then helped other workers to try to get the slab up.”

She added: “The construction union here has been very vocal and want to do their own independent inquiry into how such a tragic accident could happen.”

The accident occurred around 11.30am Perth time (3.30am GMT).

Mr Bradley’s brother Gregory said the family was struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

In an emotional tribute he said his brother “enjoyed life”.

“He would be one of the few people I don’t know anyone who had a bad word to say about. We can’t believe what has happened,” the told the Belfast Live website.

At the Portstewart Arms, where Mr Bradley once worked, staff also praised their former colleague.

Ted Maguire said: “He worked in here for a few years and has been out in Australia for nearly two years. He was a lovely, happy, friendly, jolly, fella and he played in our golfing society. He was a very good golfer and the mood here is very sad today, very subdued.”

Another member of staff, Olive McGowan said: “He was a lovely looking fella, he should have been a model and when he went out to Australia he grew a beard.

“He still kept in touch with home and I always joked he should have got rid of the beard. He had a girlfriend out there who was English.”

Ms McGowan added: “His family used to live in Coleraine and moved out of the town a couple of years ago to near Macosquin.

“Gerry was the sort of fella every mother would have wanted their daughter to marry. There was no badness in him. We are all stunned at what has happened.”

Mr McDermott, who had previously worked at the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh was a past pupil of Sacred Heart College.

It is understood the 24-year-old had moved to Australia only a few weeks ago.

Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff said he would be doing all he could to assist the McDermott family as they focus on bringing his remains back to Omagh.

Expressing his condolences, the West Tyrone MLA said: “I spoke to the McDermott family in Omagh today and they are obviously distraught at this tragic news.

“I have no doubt the local communities involved will rally round to support both families following this tragic news.”

East Londonderry MLA John Dallat knew Mr Bradley and said he was “loved and respected” by everyone he came into contact with.

“He has many relatives and friends throughout the Coleraine area and our deepest sympathy goes to his parents and family who are in shock that such a popular young man and his colleague should lose their young lives, so far from home and in such a tragic way.”

A spokesperson for JAXON said: “The accident is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the relevant authorities, and it would be premature to speculate or pre-empt the findings of the investigation.”

A statement posted on the company’s website said: “Counselling support has been offered to all 52 employees and contractors who were on site today and also to JAXON’s wider workforce.

“JAXON has been in operation since 1958, and in 57 years had never experienced a fatality.

“Our workforce is grieving and our focus is on supporting the families and those affected. As a mark of respect, and to fully support our employees, all JAXON sites will be closed tomorrow.”

It went on to say: “Safety is our highest priority.”