A jury today returned a verdict of accidental deaths at inquests into the deaths of two young friends who died when their jeep became submerged and was swept away when they tried to cross a swollen river near Louisburg in the early hours of last Christmas morning.
Tom McGreal survived the tragedy on the Carrowniskey River, near Louisburgh by pulling himself through the back window of the Ford Ranger vehicle which was owned and driven by one of his closest friends, 26-year old Declan Davitt.
Mr Davitt and 27-year old Martin Needham also from the Louisburgh area died in the incident.
Their bodies were not found by search teams until after 4 pm on Christmas Day, more than twelve hours after their vehicle plunged into the water.
It emerged at today’s inquest in Castlebar, presided over by the Coroner for Mayo, Patrick O’Connor, that the river which the young men tried to cross is regularly crossed by larger, SUV- type vehicles.
However, last Christmas the waterway was a raging torrent following weeks of incessant rain.
It was also revealed at today’s hearing that the front passenger window of the SUV wasn’t operational.
In his statement, Tom McGreal explained that he crossed fields to the main road before getting to the Gibbons home where family members raised the alarm by ringing 999 at around 2.25 am on 25th December.
A full-scale emergency operation got underway, involving Gardai, members of the local community, Westport Coastguard, the Order of Malta and Rescue 118 helicopter from Sligo.
Around 4 am, the radio antenna of the submerged vehicle was spotted in the river about 400 metres from the initial entry area.
There were no casualties in the vehicle when checked by garda divers.
As daylight was fading, some 12 hours later, the bodies of Martin and Declan were discovered at a spot close to where the Carrowniskey River flows into the Atlantic and were winched from the water by a search and rescue helicopter.
Sergeant Gabriel McLoughlin, Garda PSV Inspector for Mayo, carried out a detailed examination of the jeep involved. He said the vehicle appeared to be in a roadworthy condition prior to the incident.
The SUV was swept downstream for approximately 175 metres before coming to rest in two metres of water.
Dr. Fadel Bennani, consultant pathologist at Mayo University Hospital, said the cause of death in both cases was asphyxia due to drowning.
The Coroner noted that the blood alcohol level recorded in both men was 'high'.
After the jury had returned verdicts of accidental deaths in both cases, the coroner said sudden death at any time was most trying and emotional but at Christmas, a time of celebration, it was most heartbreaking.