A teenager has told of his frantic attempts to save his brother and father from drowning in a Donegal lake.
Benjamin Christian was just 15 when his father, Jonathon, and brother, Jaccob, drowned while the trio were on a fishing trip at Lough Keel on June 18, 2020.
The inquest into the deaths of Jonathon (53) and Jacob (17) was opened at Letterkenny courthouse today (Wed).
Benjamin recalled the harrowing moments when disaster struck after their bait box fell into the water and Jacob tried to swim after it.
In a deposition which was read to the inquest, Benjamin recalled how, when the ripple pushed the box further out, Jonathon called to his son to come back.
“Jacob tried, but he couldn’t swim back in,” Benjamin said.
After initially trying to throw a life ring to Jacob, Benjamin and Jonathon both jumped into the water to try and bring Jacob to safety.
“I started to go down and dad helped me back onto the rocks,” Benjamin said. “I looked back out and both were gone.”
Benjamin remembered the horror of the moment he saw his father’s shoes floating in the water.
Declan Foley, who looks after the pump house at Lough Keel, told the inquest how he saw a Benjamin Christian sitting on the rocks with his head down, wearing no top, shoes or socks.
Mr Foley said the boy was crying and asked him for help.
Benjamin Christian sobbed as he told Mr Foley: “I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t save them. They went under.”
Mr Foley spoke to the emergency services on the phone and noticed a life ring floating on the water at the time.
Detective Garda John Madigan, a scenes of crime investigator, said the water just beyond the rocks was around six-feet deep. Beyond this point, the depth would be much greater, the inquest heard.
Roisin McBride, the officer in charge at Mulroy Coast Guard, said she received a call at 2.56pm from the Marine Rescue sub centre at Malin Head requesting assistance after two persons were reported to have entered the water.
Ms McBride arrived at 3.16pm and a boat was launched at 3.26pm. Four teams of two combed the shoreline to assist in the search while the 118 rescue helicopter arrived soon after.
At 3.59pm, the body of Jonathon Christian was brought ashore while the body of Jacob Christian was located at 6.38pm.
Dr Gerry Lane pronounced Jonathon and Jacob Christian dead at the scene before informing the coroner.
Pathologist Dr Gerry O’Dowd gave evidence of performing an autopsy on both bodies at Letterkenny University Hospital.
In the case of each, he said he could form the opinion that death was due to drowning.
Both showed an increased weight of their lungs and brain, typical in such cases while both tested negative for the presence of alcohol and drugs.
In the case of Jonathon Christian, he also tested negative for olanzapine, which he may previously have been prescribed. “If it was present at any level, it would have been picked up,” Dr O’Dowd said.
Jonathon, Benjamin and Jacob Christian left Douglas on the Isle of Man on June 6, 2020 and travelled to Ireland. They were staying at a house in Ballyheerin, Kilmacrennan.
On the way, Jonathon bought a Nissan Micra after another car broke down in England.
The trip to Lough Keel on June 18 was the first time they’d gone fishing since arriving in Donegal.
The inquest was adjourned by the Donegal Coroner, Dr McCauley, until April 19, 2023 to enable further investigations into Jonathon Christian’s recent medical history and the circumstances by which he arrived in Donegal.