Families remember tragic Armagh crash pair with dignity and pride

The funeral of Andrew Gass took place on Sunday
The funeral of Andrew Gass took place on Sunday

Two rural families are now struggling with the “enormity” of the loss they face after laying two teenagers to rest at the weekend.

The funerals of Mark Hutcheson and Andrew Gass took place on Saturday and Sunday respectively, following their fatal crash on the Cladymilltown Road, south Armagh on Thursday morning.

Funeral of Andrew Gass, who died in a horrific road crash with his friend Mark Hutcheson as they made their way to college

Funeral of Andrew Gass, who died in a horrific road crash with his friend Mark Hutcheson as they made their way to college

A councillor for the area said the sheer weight of numbers at both services was a “fitting tribute” to the two friends, who had been studying welding and fabrication at the Southern Regional College.

Danny Kennedy, Ulster Unionist MLA for Newry and Armagh, said he had visited both families on Saturday to voice his sympathies in person.

They lived close by to one another on the outskirts of Mountnorris, Co Armagh, to the south of Markethill.

“The local community is really stunned at the tragedy,” Mr Kennedy said.

“But they are giving support to the families at this very difficult time. I think that’s very important.”

Asked how the families were managing to cope with the loss of the two 17-year-olds, he said: “Obviously, it’s any parent’s worst nightmare and a shock.

“They’re still trying to come to terms with the enormity of the shock and the tragedy, because these are very young lives of two very fine boys.

“Through their grief they are very dignified and obviously very proud of their sons.”

He concluded that the crash had “left a very deep void” for the families.

He said there had been an “outpouring” of sympathy for them since the accident, which saw another young man taken to hospital.

He was released on Thusday night.

The minister who took both the services, Rev Nigel Reid, said he did not wish to speak last night because it had been such a “horrendous” weekend.

One of those who attended both services at Tullyallen Presbyterian Church (close to where Mr Gass and Mr Hutcheson lived) was UUP councillor for the area Jim Speers.

Speaking of Rev Reid, he said: “It’s a very difficult job for anybody in those circumstances. It’s nearly an impossible job. I do not envy their task.”

On both occasions he said, the church had been “full to the gills”, and the place “black with people”.

He estimated there had been twice as many outside as had managed to fit into the church, with many of the mourners being around the same age as the tragic pair.

“Certainly it was a fitting tribute to both of the lads and their families,” he said.

“Words, I find in those situations, whilst people mean them to a great extent, are meaningless in terms of [their impact on] the bereaved family.

“How do you get into their shoes?”

The two young men had a strong interest in farming, and in the immediate wake of the crash, the Mountnorris Young Farmers Club described them as “two highly respected young men that enjoyed everything possibly that Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster had to offer”.

Their former school meanwhile, Markethill High, said at the time that they “will be remembered with great fondness by us all for their generosity of spirit, their caring natures and their fun-loving personalities”.

Friends left messages on Facebook including “heaven gained two angels, two sound fellas, RIP,” and “couldn’t have asked for better lads to have my back; gone but never forgotten”.

The crash happened at roughly 8.30am.

The two fatal victims were the driver and front seat passenger.

In the wake of the crash, the PSNI had asked for anyone who saw the collision or who noticed the Vauxhall Astra beforehand to contact them by dialling 101.