24 Jan 2022

Dangers at Donegal strand highlighted at soldier's inquest

Dangers at Donegal strand highlighted at soldier's inquest

Corp. Gavin Carey.

A Donegal coroner is to write to Donegal County Council regarding signage warning visitors of the dangers of a beach where a member of the Defence Forces drowned last summer.
Corporal Gavin Carey (27) from Mullingar drowned at Tullan Strand in Bundoran last August.
The inquest into his death heard that the five soldiers who entered the water had only gone out to their waists but three of them experienced difficulty getting back to the beach due to a strong undertow.
Just last weekend members of a football team from Fermanagh got into difficulty in a similar situation at the beach.
The inquest heard that only one faded sign warns the public of the dangers of swimming at the beach.
Donegal coroner Dr Denis McCauley said he would be writing to Donegal County Council to ask them to review the signage at the beach.
Dr McCauley said the beach is known by locals to be dangerous and is used mainly by surfers. He said two groups of people not from the area, Mr Carey
and his colleagues and the football team from Fermanagh had not been aware of the dangers associated with Tullan Strand.
“I will contact Donegal County Council in relation to this, that it is a beach that has amenity value in terms of surfing but maybe it does not have amenity value for swimming,” he said at the inquest in Ballybofey today.
Mr Carey and five colleagues from Custume Barracks in Athlone, who were all attending a medical training course at Finner Camp, had gone to the beach for a swim at around 6.30pm on August 23rd last year.
Two of the men made it to safety and suffered minor injuries after three of them got into difficulty.
But Mr Carey, of Ashfield, Mullingar did not emerge from the water and the alarm was raised by colleagues on shore.
His body was recovered from the water five days later by members of a voluntary underwater search team after an extensive search involving over 100 members of the Defence Forces.
The soldiers had been on a two-week medical course at Finner Camp ahead of a six-month deployment to Lebanon in November.
Mr Carey’s colleague, Dean Toan, said they had been swimming at the beach the week before and conditions seemed exactly the same with no reason to cause them concern.
“We went to waist level and thought we would be safe there,” he said.
He said they had been “messing about in the waves” for about 20 minutes and had not gone further out than waist height into the water but when they tried to get back in they found themselves in difficulty.
He and Mr Carey and another colleague tried to push themselves back in but couldn’t. When they tried to swim in, the current took them further out.
Mr Toan said the men were pulled out into the open sea and he lost sight of Gavin.
The waves pushed him to the right and then pushed him back into the beach and two colleagues came and grabbed him. He was physically sick as he left the water and he saw his colleague Alan O’Connor, who was in the water with him, come running from the rocks covered in blood. He had assumed Mr Carey had made it to the rocks before he realised he was still out in the water.
Mr O’Connor, the third of the soldiers who got into difficulty, said that just as they went to leave the water the waves got very strong.
“It was fine up to a stage. It was only when we went to leave where we struggling to get out,” he said.
Mr Carey was the closest of the three to the shore.
Mr O’Connor said he decided to head for the rocks as he could not get to the beach.The waves threw him onto the rocks and he managed to hold on at the second attempt.
When he got to shore he realised Mr Carey was missing. A bystander handed him a mobile phone and he contacted the coast guard.
Padraig Cunningham told the inquest that due to an ear infection he was the only one of the six soldiers who do not enter the water.
He said Mr Carey was in his unit and he knew him well.
When he saw his colleagues were in difficulty he tried to get help.
Mark O’Malley of the Boyne Fishermen's Rescue and Recovery Service told the inquest he was in a rib with a diving team which left Creevy pier at 9am on august 28th. At 10.25 a.m. a body was recovered.
Mr Carey’s mother, Patricia Peyton, told the inquest her son had joined the Defence Forces at 18 and it had been a lifelong ambition of his to be a soldier.
“He was a soldier to the core,” she said.
“Gavin was not just my son, he was my best friend. I lost everything when I lost him.”
Sgt Damian Gaffney of Bundoran Garda station told the coroner the beach has mainly been used by surfers in recent years and it is known that there are rip tides and undercurrents there.
He said it is not recommended for bathing. Sgt Gaffney said one sign at the car park telling people it is dangerous to swim at the beach is faded.
There are long-running negotiations between Donegal County Council and a local landowner over access to the beach which aren't progressing, he said.
Sgt Gaffney said the sign warning of the dangers of swimming is “faded and will need to be upgraded”.
When asked by Dr McCauley what should be done at the beach Sgt Gaffney said: “I think we need to upgrade the signage and warn people that it is unsafe for swimming.”
A post mortem found that Mr Carey died from  asphyxia as a result of drowning.
The coroner said the death was a terrible accident which happened after the soldiers found themselves in “a terribly stressful situation”.
Dr McCauley said that there had been one fatality at the beach and a near fatality at the weekend “we need to do more to draw attention that this is a dangerous beach”.
The coroner thanked the gardaí, the emergency services and the Boyne Fishermen's Rescue and Recovery Service. He said the fact that Mr Carey was found so quickly was of great relief to his family.

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