Inquest hears of desperate bid to save cleric from submerged car

Achill locals risked lives to try to save cleric and former actor Roger Grainger from flood

The scene at Dugort, Achill, where 82-year-old Roger Grainger (inset) died when his car left the road amid flooding

The scene at Dugort, Achill, where 82-year-old Roger Grainger (inset) died when his car left the road amid flooding

 

Local people risked their lives in an unsuccessful bid to save clergyman and former TV actor Roger Grainger when his car was trapped in a flash flood at Dugort, Achill Island, last September, an inquest heard on Monday.

The desperate attempt to rescue the 81-year-old pastor was described to the inquest by businessman and member of Mayo County Council Paul McNamara.

Mr McNamara, who is 6’2” in height, put on a lifejacket and waded to Rev Grainger’s car, which had become almost totally submerged at the time in rising floodwaters in the townland of Dugort on the north side of the island.

After seeing a hand inside the car striking the back window, Mr McNamara unsuccessfully tried to break the window with a torch.

He then managed to gain access to the vehicle by flicking the car boot open.

“The body floated towards me,” Mr McNamara recalled in a statement which was read to the inquest.

“I caught his hand. There was no sign of life. His head fell into the water. There were no bubbles of of air to indicate he was alive. He was lifeless.”

‘Extremely dangerous’

Mr McNamara described conditions at the scene when the alarm was raised after 10pm on September 13th last as “extremely dangerous”. He added: “I feared for our safety.”

Nora McNamara, who came upon the flood with her boyfriend, Mark Davitt, said Mark had tried to alert Rev Grainger to the flood danger by beeping the horn of his 4x4. She described the scene as “crazy”.

Robert Joyce, officer in charge of Achill Coast Guard Unit, explained: “The roadway to the scene had effectively turned into a river following a combination of rainfall, runoff, overwhelmed drains, overwhelmed river and high tides.”

The spot where the drowning took place is less than 100 metres from the Atlantic.

Rev Grainger, a retired Church of England priest who had recently moved to Achill, was an accomplished actor, having appeared in TV series Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine.

The last person who saw him alive was Elizabeth Barrett of Bervie Guesthouse, Keel.

“He was at dinner with us that evening,” Ms Barrett recalled in her statement to gardaí, which was read to the inquest.

“He was like a member of the family. He was in good form.”

The accommodation owner said at 10pm Rev Grainger came to the kitchen and thanked her for the meal. “Before he left he said ‘I’ll say a prayer for ye’. Then he left after saying he was going straight home.”

An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death.