James Casey Butler, aged 7, from Forrest Hill in Midleton, Co Cork, died in Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin after his mother, Edel, made the agonising decision to switch off his life-support machine.
Little James was airlifted from Cork University Hospital to Crumlin just hours after the tragic accident in East Cork’s Owenacurra river on Saturday.
He had been in a medically induced coma for almost 24 hours but had suffered devastating brain injuries after spending almost 10 minutes in the freezing waters before his rescue.
James was playing with friends on a green area to the rear of the Tír Cluain housing estate, just off Midleton’s Mill Rd, at around 6.15pm when the accident occurred.
James gained access to the river bank through a gap between a stretch of wire fencing and a wooden fence, erected to prevent access to the river. But he slipped and fell in, and was swept almost 300m downstream as his friends ran for help.
James was spotted struggling in the water close to the Mill Rd entrance to the estate. Local Damian Garde risked his own life and jumped into the raging torrent to save James.
Meanwhile, Roy Daly, who was visiting relatives in the estate, heard the screams for help and stopped his car. “I jumped out and then heard someone shouting: ‘We’ve found him.’ I ran over and jumped straight in to the stream to help get him to the bank.”
Mr Garde and Mr Daly managed to haul James on to the river bank, where they began emergency CPR.
Gardaí and members of Midleton Fire Brigade were on the scene quickly and took over the resuscitation efforts before paramedics arrived.
A coastguard helicopter was also tasked but because CUH does not have a helicopter landing pad, the decision was taken to transport James by road. He was rushed by ambulance in a critical condition to CUH before doctors decided to use the helicopter to airlift him to Crumlin at around 10pm for specialist intensive care treatment.
Shocked residents expressed concern about repeated damage to the river bank’s protective fence. “This was a tragedy waiting to happen,” one said.