Audi witness says occupants should have been able to unlock car

Driver’s partner says Buncrana slipway should have been closed ‘as it was an accident waiting to happen’

RNLI diver John O’Raw at the inquest for five family members who died when their car slipped off Buncrana pier Co Donegal in March 2016.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

RNLI diver John O’Raw at the inquest for five family members who died when their car slipped off Buncrana pier Co Donegal in March 2016. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

An expert witness for Audi, Gerard Boyle, said the occupants of the stricken car that sank off Buncrana pier should have been able to unlock the car while it was in the water.

He gave evidence on Thursday at the inquests of Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (59) and Ruth’s daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14). They were all from Derry city.

They all died on March 20th last year, after Mr McGrotty’s 4x4 Audi slid on algae and slipped into and then sank in the waters of Lough Swilly.

RNLI volunteer John O’Raw, a lecturer in computer science in Letterkenny and also a scuba diving instructor, had explained to the inquest how he dived to the vehicle to check were any bodies aboard at about 7.55pm on the night of the tragedy.

Evidence from witnesses on Wednesday indicated that the car fully sank sometime after 7.20pm.

Mr O’Raw tried to open the four side doors of the car, which was then in about three metres of water, but was unable to.

Submerging cars

Mr Boyle of Audi said the company had tested the effects of submerging its cars in water. But this applied to models from 2007 onwards and not earlier cars. The Audi driven by Mr McGrotty was a 2006 model.

Mr Boyle replied “yes” when specifically asked should Mr McGrotty and others in the car have been able to unlock the doors as it drifted and sank into the water. “That is how it should work,” he said.

Mr Boyle said the electrics in the Audi should have continued to work for a number of minutes even as the water reached the rim of the window of the vehicle.

He said that regardless of the fact the Audi Q7 SUV was a 4x4 vehicle, once it lost friction on the slippery algae it could not be controlled.

The jury called for the Irish Water Safety organisation to play a prominent advisory role in trying to prevent such future disasters.

The jury of five men and four women, in issuing its verdicts of death by drowning caused by misadventure, recommended that Irish Water Safety should advise on how to implement “best international practice for safety on all slipways and piers nationally”.

Warning signs

Louise James, partner of Mr McGrotty, in a statement read by her solicitor Robert Anderson, said she firmly believed “the slipway should have been closed to the general public or else proper warning signs displayed, as it was an accident waiting to happen”.

Referring to the jury’s call she added: “Hopefully lessons will be learned and the recommendations made following this inquest will be implemented.”

John Leech, chief executive of the Irish Water Safety organisation, said in any such emergencies the occupants within a minute should ensure seat belts were released and that the windows were down to enable people to escape from the vehicles. The priority was to get children out first and then adults.

Mr Leech also produced two appliances, one or both of which he believed should be in every car. One was a hammer, which could be used to break car windows that wouldn’t otherwise open. The other was a “centre punch” appliance costing about €10 which could be used both to cut off unreleasable seat belts and break windows.

Public service vehicle inspector Garda Damien Mulkearns said he examined the Audi Q7 the day after the tragedy and found there were no mechanical issues with the vehicle. It had been transported to Letterkenny at that stage. He said he also checked the side doors and was able to open them.

It was suggested at the inquest that during the recovery of the vehicle that the doors might have been opened from the inside.