Northern Ireland

Buncrana tragedy: Man who saved baby regrets he could not do more for drowning family

The five victims of the drowning tragedy Image copyright Other
Image caption The victims were, from left, Mark McGrotty, 12, and Evan McGrotty, 8, Sean McGrotty, 49, Ruth Daniels, 57, and Jodie Lee Daniels, 14

A man who rescued a four-month-old girl in a drowning tragedy off the Irish coast has said he feels "terrible" that he could not do more.

Five family members died on Sunday when their car went off Buncrana pier in County Donegal and into Lough Swilly.

Davitt Walsh was on the pier and said he took off his clothes and swam to the family as fast as he could.

He said he "could see the distress in the family" as they tried to escape from the car.

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Media captionDavitt Walsh told RTÉ he could "see the distress in the family" as their car began to sink

Those who died were Ruth Daniels, 57, her daughter Jodie Lee Daniels, 14, Sean McGrotty, 49, and his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight.

They were the mother, sister, partner and two sons of Louise James, from Londonderry.

"The father had the window half ajar and started hitting it with his elbow to break it," he told Irish state broadcaster RTÉ.

"When the window was broke, the father... handed me the baby and said: 'Take the baby.'

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Media captionChris Buckler reports: "Parents have been bringing their children to the pier today to lay flowers"

"The water started to come into the car and he just looked at me and said: 'Save my baby.'

"I took the baby, I held it above my head and I swam back to shore.

"The father could have saved himself because he was out of the car, but he went back in to save his family.

"I think deep down the father knew I was only going to be able to save one person."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Davitt Walsh said he lay "exhausted" on Buncrana pier after saving the baby from drowning

Mr Walsh, a footballer who has played in the top divisions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, said the car sank "instantly".

"My girlfriend was waiting at the shore, she took the baby off me," he said.

"I was exhausted on the pier, I just lay there on the algae.

"I just feel really, really terrible that I couldn't do any more for the family."

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption The family's car was recovered from Lough Swilly by search and rescue teams

The baby, Rionaghac-Ann, was taken to hospital and police said she was recovering well.

Mr Walsh, from Kerrykeel in County Donegal, has been praised by the family of the victims for saving her.

Jim McGrotty, a brother of Sean, said Mr Walsh was a "brave man".

"Words cannot express the enormity of the tragedy which has befallen our family," he added.

"If there is anything good which has come out of it is the fact that baby Rionaghac-Ann has been saved."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption People left floral tributes at the pier on Monday after hearing of the deaths

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