A woman who survived a farming accident which killed a young rugby star, his father and brother has been released from hospital.
Emma Spence, the sister of Ulster Rugby’s Nevin Spence, was being treated in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital for the effects of inhaling fumes following the weekend slurry tank tragedy.
Her two brothers and father were overcome by gas after falling into the tank at their farm on the Drumlough Road in Hillsborough, Co Down, at around 6pm on Saturday night.
The talented 22-year-old rugby player died along with his 30-year-old brother, Graham, who was married with two children, and their 52-year-old father, Noel.
Ms Spence, a well-known artist, was discharged from hospital last night as relatives revealed that the three men died trying to save each other.
A book of condolence is to be opened today at Ulster Rugby’s Ravenhill ground in Belfast, already the site of floral tributes, while the team’s RaboDirect PRO12 game on Friday in Italy against Zebre looks set to be postponed.
Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan said: “It will almost certainly be postponed.”
Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalised.
There is widespread shock at the devastating blow to the remaining family members, Essie Spence and her daughter, Laura.
Last night the grieving relatives said: “The families of Noel, Graham and Nevin Spence are trying very hard to come to terms with their tragic loss.
“The three men were very close to each other in life, and that love was expressed in their final moments trying to help one another.”
They added: “The family is being supported and comforted by other family members, friends and neighbours.
“Arrangements for a thanksgiving service for the three are currently under way and details will appear in the press in due course.”
The statement was released by Rev Rodney Stout, senior pastor at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who said the family asked the media to respect their privacy at this difficult time.
The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is investigating the circumstances to establish a clear picture of how the tragedy unfolded.
Nevin Spence was already a star of the Ulster Rugby team and was tipped to have a glittering international career ahead of him.
At Ravenhill yesterday his former colleagues were visibly shaken by news of the tragedy.
Players and club officials visited the Spence family last night to pass on their condolences.
David Humphreys, director of professional rugby at the club, said he was overwhelmed by the loss of a man he had watched rise through the ranks.
“There was huge potential,” he said, citing highlights of a career already packed with achievement.
But he also recalled Nevin as a player who was hugely popular off the pitch, and added: “You just need to listen to some of the conversations with our players over the last 24 hours.
“All of us are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.”
Nevin was a member of the Ulster Rugby squad which reached the European Heineken Cup Final last season, and he was predicted to have a major international future ahead of him in the game.
The former Wallace High School player was last year named Young Player of the Year at the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association Awards.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they were deeply saddened by the tragic accident.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said the deaths had shocked the entire farming community.