Man drowns after helping flood victims - inquest hears

A Westmeath man lost his life in a drowning accident in his flooded quarry after loaning his water pump to flood victims in Athlone, an inquest in Tullamore has heard.

John Gannon (67 ) died when the excavator digger he was driving overturned in the flooded quarry in Kilbeggan in December of last year.

A family friend raised the alarm when he saw the excavator topple into the water at around 8am on December 5, 2009 and Mr Gannon’s sons Darragh and Shane, and family friend Vincent Dowling and relative and employee John Gannon attempted to rescue him.

Darragh Gannon was woken at 8.30am by his brother Shane and both sped to the quarry by jeep where they saw the cab submerged. Darragh took off his shirt and trousers and dived into the water, trying to locate the cab.

However, the excavator had landed door-side down and attempts to break the windows of the cab with a lump hammer failed because of a steel safety cage designed to protect against falling rocks.

Using heavy plant machinery, his sons eventually shifted the excavator enough to release the door but by then the father of four had been underwater for more than 20 minutes.

Health and Safety Association inspector John Sheeran showed pictures of the site taken in better weather which showed a network of roadways around the quarry.

However, on the day of the accident the site was “like a lake” and he said it appeared that Mr Gannon had been using his memory of the road layout to negotiate his way around the quarry.

On the day, the water level would have been above the level of the excavator’s caterpillar tracks.

Darragh Gannon interrupted the inspector’s evidence to say that his father owned a water pump normally used to keep the quarry water-free but this had been loaned to the people of Athlone to keep the water out of their houses.

Coroner Brian Mahon paid tribute to the family and friends of Mr Gannon who had done their best for him and said their feeling of helplessness must have been awful.

He observed that John Gannon would have travelled the road he died on thousands of times in his working life but on December 5 his family were faced with “a particularly graphic scene”, an excavator on its side, the door inaccessible and a cab that couldn’t be smashed for safety reasons.

The safety cage was designed to protect him but “perversely, it acted against him”, the coroner said.

A verdict of death by drowning was returned.

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