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Limerick boating incident: 'I can still hear the girls screaming'

A 12-year-old girl is in critical condition in hospital after she was found trapped under a capsized rowing boat submerged in the River Shannon, today.

Firefighters who discovered the capsized boat, cut the girls hair to free her after her hair had earlier become “entangled” in the boat’s “outriggers” during the tragedy.

Danny Ryan, who witnessed the shocking scene unfold from the water’s edge, said he will be “forever haunted” by girl’s friends “screams” for help.

Three other girls all believed to be of a similar age, were in the boat at the time, and were understood to have been accompanied by a support boat.

The tragedy unfolded around 10am at a stretch of the river known locally as the Old Salmon Weir.

It is understood they had set off earlier along the Abbey River from a local boat club.

Mr Ryan said:

I could hear someone screaming. I could see the boat turned over and a girl waving and screaming. I could hear them calling the girl’s name, they kept calling for her.

“I rang 999 and they put me through to the rescue services. I said the girl was under the water and (the girls) were screaming.”

Mr Ryan said the girl’s friends kept “waving” to him and shouting for help.

“I couldn’t go to work. My stomach is sick over it. It was scary.”

“I’m haunted all day. It’s the screams. I can still hear the girls screaming, ‘help, help help’”.

“The current was going against (them). They were saying her hair was caught underneath the boat. I couldn’t figure it out. I think, with the current, (the boat) turned sideways.”

Mr Ryan said the rowing boat was “broke in two”.

“The current was going very fast. The water was up so high. They were only kids.”

Picture: Brendan Gleeson.

One of the girls “kept calling me, ‘help me, help me, help me’, and she was waving her hands. I ran down by the weir. I kept slipping and I was nearly going into the water.”

Mr Ryan praised the quick response of firefighters who were joined by Limerick Marine Search and Rescue Service, the Shannon-based Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter, and local gardai.

The firefighters, who are specially trained in water rescues, had been patrolling the river when they simultaneously received an alert from the Coast Guard.

“They pulled her out of the water, and put her into the boat and they were doing CPR in the boat whilst they were driving. The rest of (the girls) got into another boat,” added Mr Ryan.

His wife Susan Ryan, who also witnessed the tragic scene unfold, said: “I was roaring over to them that help was on the way”.

She said one of the girls “screamed” at her to “please help”.

She was hanging on for her life, if she had went (under the water) she was gone.

Heroic firefighters attached to Limerick City and County Fire Service administered emergency first aid to the girl and transported her to dry land where she was taken by ambulance and rushed to University Hospital Limerick.

A Garda investigation, led by Limerick Superintendent Derek Smart, is underway.

Part of the Garda investigation will aim to determine whether or not the girls were wearing or equipped with flotation devices.

Garda sources said investigators will also liaise with the Marine Casualty Investigation Board which carry out independent investigations into marine casualties in Irish waters.

The girl was expected to be transferred to Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Dublin, for further specialised medical treatment.