Donegal man who saved baby gives harrowing account of events as he tried to rescue family

Declan Magee


Declan Magee



Donegal man who saved baby gives harrowing account of events as he tried to rescue family

Davitt Walsh speaking to the Democrat last year after the tragedy.

The Donegal man who saved a baby from a car in which five members of her family drowned has told of how he had to let go of her brother's hand as the car sank into the water.

Davitt Walsh was giving evidence at the inquest into the deaths of five members of the McGrotty and James family at Buncrana pier in March 2016.

He swam out to the car and saved the life of baby Rioghnanch.

Mr Walsh said he had tried to pull a boy from the car but the boy’s foot seemed to get stuck and he had to let go as water rushed into the car through an open window. He said he could hear screaming from the partially submerged car as he swam out.

The inquest into the deaths of five members of the one family who died in the tragedy  got under way in Buncrana this morning.

Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Evan (8) and Mark (12); the boy's grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) and her daughter Jodie Lee Tracey (14), all died when the Audi Q7 car they were in slid off a slipway into Lough Swilly at Buncrana on March 20th last year.

Mr  Walsh told the inquest he had been playing football in Letterkenny for Fanad United.

He and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox decided to go to Buncrana for a drive when they were on their way back to her Derry home. They arrived at the pier and stopped to take a photograph. They stopped at the slipway then drove to the pier.

He said he had noticed that algae covered the slipway up to about eight feet from the water line.

On their way past the slipway as they drove away, Ms Knox noticed a car in the water. They drove down the slip and the car was about 20 metres from the the end of the slipway. When he got out of his car he heard screaming from the car in the water.


He said Ms Knox called on him to “do something”. He took off his clothes and ran into the water. As he swam out he saw Mr McGrotty smash the driver's window, which was half down, with his elbow.

He said Mr McGrotty used a lot of force to smash the window in three or four attempts. Mr Walsh shouted to the driver that he needed to get everyone out. Mr McGrotty  passed the baby out the window to him and then sat on the window ledge with his head and shoulders out of the car.

At this point Mr Walsh saw a young boy trying to climb out from the backseat of the car. “I reached in to grab the wee boy and tried to pull him out but he seemed to be stuck,” he told the inquest. He said the father then seemed to say something to the family in the car.

The car began to tilt with the weight of Mr McGrotty outside the car and water started to gush in, Mr Walsh said. Mr Walsh said Mr McGrotty sat on the window ledge and appeared to be looking for more help. “He sat up and water started to seep in with the weight of him and within seconds it started to gush in.” Mr McGrotty then sat back in the car.

He said the boy tried to get get over the front driver’s seat  and climb out. “I grabbed his hand and the car went down when all that water rushed in and filled up the whole front. I still had his hand but I had to let go.”


He said he was trying to keep the baby out of the water as the water was rushing in. The father said to him “save my baby” and that point the water gushed in and the car went under.

Mr Walsh swam the backstroke back to the slipway and held the baby with his left hand, keeping her head dry. Ms Knox took the baby from him and he collapsed on the slipway.

“I could hardly breathe  and I was so tired I lay on slipway and tried catch my breath. I was  freezing cold.” He said the water seemed calm but was cold. Mr Walsh said he had to swim about 25 metres back from the car to the slipway.

He said the slipway was very slippy and he slipped and fell as he entered the water.

The inquest continues.