A mother and her young sons were seconds from death after their car accidentally plunged into the river Lee.
But tragedy was averted when the boys’ father and two onlookers dived in and managed to save them just as the car sank beneath the surface of the main channel of the Lee close to the Port of Cork’s city quays.
Eyewitnesses and emergency service personnel hailed the rescuers as “brave heroes”.
“We were seconds from seeing the family being wiped out,” eyewitness Kathleen Twomey said.
The Polish family at the centre of the dramatic rescue are her neighbours — a man, his partner and her two young boys, both aged under five.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was so terrible. The scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Ms Twomey said.
“I thought they were gone because the car was going down so fast. I could see them, the kids in the back and the mother in the passenger seat, trying to get out the side windows. The car was going down fast.
“Only for the guy pulling up in the jeep and helping the dad, they were all gone. It was so scary.”
The drama unfolded just after 8pm on Saturday.
It is understood that the little boys’ mother had put her children and the family’s pet dog into their blue 02 BMW convertible which they park regularly above a disused slipway at Lower Castleview Terrace, across the road from the home on the Lower Glanmire Road.
The children were in the back seat and the mother was in the passenger seat as the father returned to their house to get something.
Ms Twomey said she was upstairs in her home which overlooks the river and terrace when she heard what sounded like a car revving, followed by screams.
It’s not clear what happened but the car appears to have jumped forward, cleared a low ditch, and driven onto a steep, algae-covered slipway.
It was high tide at the time, with the water close to where the car had been parked, and the vehicle and its terrified passengers entered the water quickly.
It began to float out into the main channel, and take on water.
“When I looked out my window, I saw the blue car in the river and I could hear the kids screaming and trying to get out the window,” Ms Twomey said. “Straight after that, I dialled 999, and explained that I saw the car in the river.
“They said they’d put me on to someone else, and it was ringing and I said ‘Would you please hurry because there’s kids in the car’.”
Meanwhile, the boys’ father heard the commotion, ran across the road and dived straight into the river. A man driving passed stopped and went in to the river with him. A third man, who lives on the terrace, also jumped in to help.
Christina Hegener was visiting friends, Gemma Healy and Nicole Bohan, who live on the terrace, when they heard screaming and rushed outside.
Ms Hegener said she saw two men in the water near the car, and that the driver’s window was slightly open.
“You could see one child, but you could hear the second child and the mother were in the car,” she said.
“The two lads broke a side mirror and they got the two children out first, and then the mother out, and then they held up the car to get the dog out.”
She said a third man ran out of his house on the terrace and jumped over a low wall into the river to help.
The men saved the youngest child first — taking him out through the open driver side window.
Nicole Bohan, Christina Hegener and Gemma Healy were among a group of onlookers who then formed a human chain on the slipway.
Ms Bohan waded in to the river, knee-deep, where the father passed her his youngest boy before he went back in to save the others.
Ms Bohan then handed the boy to another person in the chain before the men presented her with the older boy.
Ms Healy said the children were upset and scared.
“They just couldn’t stop crying. They were in shock. They got whisked into a house before they could even see if their mother got out. They didn’t calm down until she came into the house to them, and spoke to them,” she said.
Ms Bohan said: “They just wanted their mum and dad.”
As the children were being cared for, the men managed to free the mother just as the car sank.
The men then held the car in a desperate bid to prevent it from sinking to the bottom before the family’s dog swam to the surface.
Ms Healy said it was very difficult to watch the rescue unfold. “We have nephews around the same age and it was hard watching it — as if it was them,” she said.
“But the children are fine. They’re safe and that’s all that matters.”
Ms Twomey said the emergency services were on the scene just minutes later - a garda car arrived first, followed by four units of Cork City Fire Brigade and three HSE ambulances.
“Thank God they were all saved,” she said.
The mother and her children were taken to Cork University Hospital (CUH) for treatment and observation. The father was taken to CUH but he did not require treatment. One of the other rescuers require treatment for a minor gash to his arm.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved