The five victims were laid to rest after a funeral service in Derry
By Declan Mageenews@donegaldemocrat.com@dgldemocrat
Sunday March 20th, 2016 will be remembered for one of the most tragic events to happen in Donegal in recent times.
While the county and Inishowen in particular has been scarred by horrendous tragedies such as the deaths of three boys from the town in the Omagh bombing, and a series of horrific road tragedies, the events at the pier in Buncrana on that March evening will be remembered as one of the most appalling tragedies the north west has seen.
Mark McGrotty, 12, and Evan McGrotty, 8, Sean McGrotty, 49, Ruth Daniels, 57, and Jodie Lee Daniels, 14, all lost their lives when the Audi SUV they were in slid off a slipway at the pier at Buncrana and submerged within minutes.
The news of the deaths of five members of the McGrotty and Daniels family broke that Sunday evening.
For the locals and the media gathered at the scenic spot on the shores of Lough Swilly the next morning, there was a palpable air of disbelief.
The apparent innocuous nature of the incident was one of the most shocking elements of the tragedy. A family out for a Sunday evening drive, never to come home again.
Hardened lifeboat crew members could be seen still visibly affected by what they and their colleagues had experienced in a failed rescue attempt that quickly became an operation to recover a mother, her daughter, her son in law and her two young grandsons.
Eye witnesses accounts hint at the horror of what unfolded as the car sunk beneath the water after sliding down the slipway into the water.
The tragedy was felt all around the island and indeed further afield.
The focus quickly turned to Louise James who had lost almost her whole family in just a few terrifying tragic moments.
Her unimaginable loss captured the sympathy of the whole country.
In the midst of the stunned disbelief, there was the heroics of Davitt Walsh, who risked his own life to swim out to the stricken car.
There he met a sight that will haunt him for the rest of his life. He managed to save four-month-old baby Rionaghac-Ann by swimming with her back to shore.
But there was also the agony of the failed attempted to save one of the two brothers, whose hand slipped from his grasp.
There was also the heroics of Sean who managed to help his baby daughter escape the car.
Soon after the scale of the tragedy began to sink in, thoughts turned to why it happened.
Attention turned to the slipway, which is used for the Lough Swilly Ferry service and whether it should have been accessible. Some argued that such direct access to the sea should be closed off to the public while others made the argument that slip ways are dangerous but are left open for the users of maritime craft.
The thick algae on the slipway, which was suspected to have caused the car to slide to the water, also came under scrutiny. While some made the argument that this should have been removed, that was countered with the theory that local authorities had moved away from using chemicals for such tasks and that keeping a natural interface between the sea and land free from algae would be a laborious task.
Four days after the tragedy the focus moved to Derry and the funerals of the five victims. A huge crowd of mourners, watched by local, national and international media took in the tragic spectacle as Louise James bade farewell to her sons, her mother, her sister and her partner.
A week to the day of the tragedy she revisited the spot where the events unfolded and addressed crowd of hundreds who attended a vigil in memory of the victims.
After throwing garlands of flowers into the lough from the pier, she addressed the gathered crowd.
Many people were in tears and applauded as Ms James expressed a “massive” thanks to the community for its “words of support, “kindness and generosity”.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
Following the tragedy Davitt Walsh has been honoured with a number of awards including a People of the Year award, the Michael Heffernan Gold Medal for Marine Gallantry and a Presidential Award.