Inquest hears paramedics went to three wrong locations responding to double drowning in Clare

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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Inquest hears paramedics went to three wrong locations responding to double drowning in Clare

Family of the late Jack Kenneally, who drowned at a quarry near Roslevan, Ennis PICTURE: LIAM BURKE

AN INTERNAL investigation found that there was “no fault” on the part of the "valiant" National Ambulance Service (NAS) after paramedics were sent to three wrong locations before arriving at the scene of a double drowning in County Clare.

An inquest was held into the tragic deaths of teenagers Jack Kenneally, 15, and Shay Moloney Harding, 15, who drowned while swimming at a “disused quarry” at Roslevan, in Ennis on May 31 last.

Coroner John McNamara returned a verdict of accidental death due to asphyxiation, secondary to drowning, at a hearing at HSE buildings, Catherine Street, Limerick city, this Wednesday morning.

The inquest depositions from the teenagers’ friends, who witnessed the incident, were read out in the coroner’s court by Insp Dermot O’Connor in front of heartbroken family members.

Rowan O’Flaherty, 16, of Showgrounds Road, Ennis, said that they were at the quarry looking for places to swim, and had been talking about going to “an island” in the area.

He said they were “half-way in” when he saw Jack “kind of panicky swimming” and that he swam to help him.

He said that Killian Brennan, 16, was trying to assist Jack. 

He said that he didn’t know that Shay was in trouble.

He said when he saw “three lads in Leaving Cert” nearby, he called for help.

He said one of them “saw Shay’s head go under” and that when he got onto land, he called 999 for help.

Rowan asked the NAS to track his phone location, after he was told that they had gone to Whelan’s quarry on Lahinch Road.

He said that gardai “told us to go behind the hill so that we wouldn’t see them take them out of the water”.

Killian Brennan said that Shay entered the water first, and that when Jack got into difficulty in the water, he “shouted help”.

He said that while he was assisting Jack, Hugh Connolly, 16, was helping Shay.

Mr Connolly said that when they arrived at the site, they “decided to swim to the island up quarry”. He said that two or three minutes after Jack “kind of panicked”, he “went down”.

He said he was “trying to keep Shay up” but “my arms got too tired and couldn’t hold him anymore”.

Dean Coughlan, 19, said he had entered the quarry “via a derelict barn” with his friends. After he heard screaming, he heard one teenager shouting: “He is drowning, he is drowning.”

Mr Coughlan said he “kept trying to reassure Hugh, that I was on my way” and that he should “keep Shay up”.

He said: “I made an attempt to dive down for the lads but the water was too cloudy.” He said that it was 40 minutes before all the emergency services were at the scene, and that Ennis Fire Service were first at the scene.

Member of the community, Christopher Scanlon, 45, said he went to the quarry to walk his dog when one of the boys asked him for help. He told one of the boys to go to a nearby house for a lifebuoy.

Mr Scanlon said he could see a boy in blue shorts “with his head in his hands” and that he was present when the Jack and Shay were removed from the water.

David Woods said he was driving past a Mick Ford’s house when he stopped the car to see if “everything was okay” and asked one of the teenagers what was going on. He said he made “several attempts” to dive for the two boys.

Michael O’Rourke, of Roslevan, recovered the two bodies from the water after equipping himself with diving gear.

Mr O’Rourke, a diver with the Ennis Sub-Aqua Club, arrived at the scene when he and his wife noticed a search and rescue helicopter in the area.

After offering his services to gardai, gardai assisted him with putting on the diving gear, the inquest heard.

He described the water as “very cloudy” as a result of silt causing poor visibility.

He noted that the temperature of the water was 13 degrees Celsius and that the maximum depth of the water was four metres. He commented that the water was not suitable for swimming.

Ennis Fire Station sub-officer, Stephen Hayes said that he received a call from the coast guard at around 3.30pm.

Two firefighters entered the water and were “unsuccessful” in retrieving Shay as the water was “just too deep”.

The coroner was told during the inquest that the fire service does not have “subsurface capability” and that they have buoyancy aids “to keep us on surface”.

The two boys were eventually handed over to the NAS at 4.26pm and were flown away by coast guard helicopter to University Hospital Limerick at 4.52pm.

Advanced paramedic Alan West, who was in charge of the scene, received a call at 3.28pm of a “suspected drowning at a disused quarry”.

The inquest heard that there was “confusion” over the quarry. He said Shay was taken from the water at 4.15pm, and he was in cardiac arrest.

Mechanical CPR was attached to both boys, and advanced life-support medication was administered to both, but said there was “no change” in their conditions.

He said that when they were brought to the emergency department at UHL, staff were on standby with two resuscitation teams.

The inquest heard that paramedics arrived at the scene around 30 minutes after the initial call, and that they went to “other locations” first.

He said that a control room in Tallaght instructed them to go to Whelan’s quarry at Lahinch Road, then Ryan’s quarry at Corofin Road, and at a quarry at Woodstock.

After being questioned by a family member in relation to the initial call, Mr West said: “We had no contact with the caller”.

Mr West said that he started an investigation as he “was unhappy as you can imagine”, and concluded that it was “no fault of the National Ambulance Service (NAS)” and that they followed policy and procedure.

A member of the family acknowledged this and said to Mr West: “We know it wasn’t your fault". 

Jack was pronounced dead by Dr Alan Watts at 5.19pm at UHL. Shay was pronounced dead at 5.11pm by Dr Damien Ryan.

Investigating officer, Gda Aine Kelly, of Ennis garda station, said that the coroner was informed of the two fatalities at 6.20pm on May 31.

Dr Terezia Laslo, citing medical evidence by UHL pathologist Dr Gabor Laskai, said that both boys died as a result of asphyxiation, secondary to drowning.

She confirmed that a toxicology examination for drug and alcohol returned negative for both boys.

Coroner John McNamara, returning the verdict of accidental death, said to the family: “I know that it is extremely difficult for the families of Jack and Shay to hear such detailed evidence of this tragic incident.”

He said it was “obviously a very warm day” adding that it was “not unusual” for people to go swimming in warm conditions.

“Unfortunately, this quarry is not suitable for swimming,” he said, and commended the young friends “who tried to help them”.

He also commended the efforts of Dean Coughlan. He said that “valiant efforts were made by paramedics at the scene”.

A member of the family asked the coroner if he make a recommendation that lifebuoys be installed at the quarry. He replied: “I can certainly make a recommendation that lifebuoys be installed.”

Insp O’Connor said he “could only imagine the shock and sadness” for the family and expressed his condolences.