Five members of a Londonderry family in a car that rolled off a slipway into Lough Swilly drowned due to misadventure, a coroner inquest jury has found.
The Buncrana pier tragedy took the lives of Sean McGrotty, 49, his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight, his partner’s mother, Ruth Daniels, 57, and her daughter, Jodie Lee Daniels, 14.
Sean McGrotty handed his baby daughter to a rescuer through the driver’s side window moments before the Audi Q7 sank in March 2016.
On Wednesday, a pathologist said Sean McGrotty had a blood alcohol level of 159mg – three times over the Republic of Ireland’s drink-drive limit.
‘I couldn’t get the doors open’
On Thursday, an RNLI volunteer diver told the inquest that he could not open the doors of the vehicle when it was under the water.
John O’Raw said the water was about three metres deep and visibility was an issue.
Mr O’Raw told the inquest he entered the water about 40 minutes after the alarm was raised.
On the second day of the inquests in Buncrana, Mr O’Raw recalled how his pager beeped at 19:13 GMT that day.
When he got to the scene 17 minutes later, he saw colleagues performing CPR on a woman.
He returned home to get snorkelling equipment and entered the water at 19:55.
The RNLI volunteer said he tried to open the rear passenger door and the handle came freely, but the mechanism to open the door was not working.
“I couldn’t get the door open,” he said.
“I went to the passenger side front door and it was exactly the same. I told recovery I couldn’t get the doors open.”
He continued: “I tried the rear driver’s side door, and then tried front driver’s door but neither would open. The driver’s window was half intact and was bowed facing inwards, into the car.
“I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. The tailgate at the back of the vehicle was open.”
Mr O’Raw said he could get his “head in through the window and could see there was no one in the two front seats”.
He said, it was his opinion, that because the window was broken and the tailgate was open, the water pressure would have been the same inside and outside the vehicle so the doors should have been able to open.
The coroner said there would be some resistance, akin to opening a door into wind.
Garda Seamus Callaghan told the inquest when he arrived at the scene the RNLI were performing CPR on Ruth Daniels.
He said four bodies were recovered in a relatively short space of time and a local priest said prayers over each of the victims.
Garda Callaghan told the inquest the slipway was “extremely slippery with thick algae”.
Garda Damien Mulcairns told the inquest he inspected the car, an Audi Q7, the following day at a garage in Letterkenny.
He said the car was in road-worthy condition before the incident and he had no issue with opening all the doors in the car from the outside and from the inside.
Garda Mulcairns said the driver’s side window was shattered, but intact with lamination, which is a common safety aspect in modern vehicles.
He said it would have taken considerable force to break the glass.
Garda Mulcairns said central locking was operated both mechanically and electronically.
In his opinion, any electrical component submerged in water would not react in the same way, he said.
On the first day of the inquest, Dr Catriona Dillon, the pathologist who carried out the post-mortem examination on Mr McGrotty, told the inquest his blood-alcohol reading “may indicate a level of intoxication”.
The inquest also heard a statement from Louise James, who lost five members of her family in the incident.
Ms James was Mr McGrotty’s partner, Mark and Evan’s mother, Mrs Daniel’s daughter and Jodie-Lee’s sister.
Their four-month-old baby daughter Rionaghac-Ann was the sole survivor.