An Irish father passed his four-month-old daughter to a rescuer before returning to his sinking car to die with his two young sons, mother-in-law and her teenage daughter.
The tragedy has gripped the small Irish community of Co Donegal which is in mourning what it’s calling ‘an unspeakable loss.’
The horror accident rapidly unfolded on Sunday night when a car driven by 46-year-old Sean Grotty slid off an algae-covered slipway in the freezing waters of Lough Swilly.
Rescuer Davitt Walsh, who spent 2014 playing football in Nelson, braved the freezing water to reach the sinking car, described how Mr Grotty handed the infant out the broken driver’s side window just moments before his Audi Q7 sank.
“The father looked at me and he had to make a decision,” Mr Walsh said.
“He could have saved himself because he was out of the car but he went back into his family and I couldn’t do nothing else, the car went down instantly and the whole lot of them went down.”
Mr Walsh is being hailed as a hero and onlookers say he was lucky to survive the short swim back to shore with the baby in the icy conditions.
Rescuers immediately raced to the scene but the speed with which the car sank rendered them virtually helpless.
I couldn’t do nothing else, the car went down instantly and the whole lot of them went down”
The Daily Mail quotes onlookers watching helplessly as the car occupants screamed for help as the car started sinking.
“It was harrowing, I don’t want to go into details,” one man said. “You felt so hopeless and you watched it unfolding in front of your eyes. It was a surreal sort of thing.”
Mr Grotty drowned along with sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight, his mother-in-law Ruthy Daniels, 57, and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie Lee Daniels.
Mr Grotty’s wife, Louise, was away for a hens weekend when the tragedy unfolded.
The young mother who has lost her husband, two children, mother and sister has said her surviving baby, Rionaghac-Ann, is her reason for living.
“The family are inconsolable” said a visiting parish priest.
“Louise said to me, ‘I have lost everyone, except little Rionaghac-Ann’. She said ‘Rionaghac-Ann is my reason to go on’.”
The baby girl is said to be doing well in hospital.
The slipway structure where the car slipped into the water is prone to a build-up of thick algae.
The victims’ families have thanked the community for its support and say they’re ‘devastated’ to have lost five family members ‘in a terrible accident.