Jury considering verdict in Buncrana pier tragedy inquest

A jury is considering its verdict in the inquest into one of Ireland's worst marine tragedies.

Thursday, 23rd November 2017, 4:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 7:08 am
Undated family handout photo issued by the Garda of Sean McGrotty, with his partner Louise holding their baby, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann and his sons Mark, 12, (right) and Evan, eight

Five family members died after a car plunged off a pier slipway into the water in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in March last year.

The panel is deliberating on whether to return a finding of accidental death or misadventure on driver Sean McGrotty, 49.

It is also weighing potential recommendations including a public safety campaign warning of the dangers; that manufacturer Audi publishes data on tests of vehicles flooded in water; that instructions on what to do be included in the car manual; that there be a window-breaking device sold with the vehicle; that warning signs be erected about the risk of algae on some slipways, and that gates be used.

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Coroner Denis McAuley arrives at the inquest for five family members who died when their car slipped off Buncrana pier Co Donegal in March 2016 at Lake of Shadows Hotel in Buncrana

Coroner Denis McCauley said the evidence suggested Mr McGrotty decided voluntarily to drive on to the slipway and added jurors knew what condition he was in.

A post-mortem report found he was over the drink driving limit.

Evan McGrotty, eight, his father Sean, 12-year-old brother Mark, grandmother Ruth Daniels, 59, and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie Lee Daniels died when their SUV sank after sliding off a “slippery as ice” slipway.

The only survivor from the Londonderry family was a baby girl.

Coroner Denis McAuley arrives at the inquest for five family members who died when their car slipped off Buncrana pier Co Donegal in March 2016 at Lake of Shadows Hotel in Buncrana

Former footballer Davitt Walsh swam out into the harbour in an effort to save the six occupants of the Audi Q7 and rescued the girl.

Mr McGrotty handed his four-month-old daughter Rionaghac-Ann to Mr Walsh through the driver’s side window moments before the vehicle sank.

Mr Walsh tried to save another child, but said he seemed to “get stuck” on something.

On Thursday it emerged an RNLI diver was unable to gain access to the vehicle after it was submerged around 20 metres from shore because the handles did not open the doors.

Discussion also surrounded the use of laminated glass which made it considerably more difficult to break through the windows, technical experts said.

The inquest was also told by a technical expert and representative of the manufacturer that once the vehicle lost grip on the slippery algae it would have been uncontrollable.

For Audi, Gerard Boyle said when the control unit became wet it would have shut down and the door would have been left in its original condition, locked or unlocked.

Other evidence suggested the car must have been locked at the time of the accident since rescuers were not able to get the door open, the inquest was told.