LOCAL people risked their lives in an unsuccessful bid to save clergyman and former TV actor Roger Grainger when his car was trapped in a flash flood at Dugort, Achill Island, last September, an inquest heard today (Monday).
The desperate attempt to rescue the 81-year-old pastor was described to the inquest by businessman and elected member of Mayo County Council, Paul McNamara.
Mr. McNamara, who is 6 foot 2 inches tall, put on a lifejacket and waded to Rev. Grainger’s car which was almost totally submerged in rising floodwaters in the townland of Dugort on the north side of the island.
After seeing a hand inside the car striking the back window, Mr. McNamara unsuccessfully tried to break the window with a torch. He managed, however, to gain access to the vehicle by flicking the car boot open.
“The body (then) floated towards me," Mr. McNamara recalled in a statement which was read to the inquest. “I caught his hand. There was no sign of life. His head fell into the water. There were no bubbles of air to indicate he was alive. He was lifeless.”
Mr. McNamara described conditions at the scene when the alarm was raised after 10 p.m. on September 13 last as “extremely dangerous."
He added: “I feared for our safety."
Nora McNamara, who came on the flood with her boyfriend, Mark Davitt, said Mark tried to alert the car driver (Rev. Grainger) to the flood danger by beeping the horn of his jeep. She described the flood situation as “crazy."
Robert Joyce, officer-in-charge of Achill Coastguard Unit, explained: “The roadway to the scene had effectively turned into a river following a combination of rainfall, runoff, overwhelmed drains, overwhelmed river and high tides”.
The spot where the drowning took place is less than 100 metres from the Atlantic.
Rev. Grainger, a retired Church of England priest who had recently moved to Achill, was also an accomplished actor appearing in the TV series, Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine.
The last people who saw the clergyman alive was Elizabeth Barrett of Bervie Guesthouse, Keel.
“He was at dinner with us that evening," Mrs. Barrett recalled in her statement to gardai which was read to the inquest. “He was like a member of the family. He was in good form”.
The accommodation owner said that at 10 p.m. Rev. Grainger came to the kitchen and thanked her for the meal. “Before he left he said ‘I’ll say a prayer for ye’. Then he left after saying he was going straight home."
An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death.