Paul Murphy yesterday recalled the horror of the accident at Thomond Bridge in Limerick on Saturday which claimed the lives of his two workmates.
TJ Herlihy, 36, from Castleisland, Co Kerry and Brian Whelan, 29, from O’Briensbridge, Co Clare drowned when they got trapped in a cage which crashed into the Shannon after a cable suspending it from a crane snapped.
Speaking from his home in Ballysteen, Co Limerick, a shocked Paul Murphy, whose wife is due to give birth to their second child in November, said he survived even though he can’t swim.
“One second we were laughing and joking, the usual on a building job, and then the next thing they were gone. It’s very hard to come to terms with it. I knew Brian a long time.
“TJ was a lovely guy. I only knew him a few hours as he only started with us that morning. But he talked very highly of his family and how well they had done in Sweden. He was a very well spoken man.”
Paul’s wife, Karen is expecting a baby in November and yesterday Paul accompanied their five-year son, Jack on his first day at Ballysteen primary school.
“There were a few moments on Saturday when I thought I would never see my unborn child,” he said.
Paul, a native of Broadway, Co Wexford, said that whenever he starts a new job he thinks out a plan in the case of an emergency.
“I had a thought in the back of my head all week [for] what I would do if anything went wrong,” he said. “There were four of us working together all day, until about 3pm.
“I heard a bang and then I knew I was gone. I was taken under the water. My mouth was full of water and I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black. People asked me if I could see the boys, but I couldn’t see anything.
“I knew that there was only one chance and I caught the rope which was attached to the harness on my back. It’s like a rock climber’s harness and a rope onto your back with a big hook attached to the cage.
“I pulled along the rope, and whatever way I got the hook, it opened first turn and I caught onto a bar and pulled myself up from the cage. The life jacket inflated and this shot me up to the surface about two metres from the bridge. I can’t swim and the boys on the bridge shouted ‘calm down, calm down lie back’.
“One of the lads on the bridge was my brother-in-law Trevor, who had the job of controlling traffic. With the life jacket I was taken down the river. I shouted about the two boys.
“They raced up and got to the lads and cut off the harness with knives and got them in. They started CPR and did their best to get them going.”
As he was being brought by ambulance to University Hospital Limerick, Paul realised his two workmates were dead: “I was in an ambulance on my own. They were doing CPR on the lads right up to the moment they were put into other ambulances. I knew then unfortunately they were dead.
“Last week, I was thinking of taking today [Monday] off because it’s Jack’s first day at school,” he said. “Karen is a bit shaken. It’s very hard to come to terms with the death of the two lads.”