The families of two men who died after their Jeep was swept away in a river on Christmas Day have said they are heartbroken.
Declan Davitt, 26, and Martin Needham, 27, were in the 4×4 when it fell into the Carrowniskey river in County Mayo, west Ireland, in the early hours of the morning.
The vehicle soon became fully submerged in the water and was carried downstream amid gale force winds and high water levels.
It has been reported that the vehicle was crossing a stretch of water used locally as a shortcut by tractors and four-wheel drives. The men were returning from a night out socialising with friends.
However, the crossing was more dangerous than usual because of the bad weather, which swelled the stretch of water, and the vehicle became caught in the tide.
It entered the water near Louisburgh, close to the Mayo Atlantic coastline, at around 2.30am on Monday. Another man, 19, managed to escape and reach land, where he raised the alarm and alerted emergency services at about 3am.
A major search and rescue operation involving garda divers and the coastguard was soon launched to find the two missing men. A helicopter was also dispatched and carried out aerial searches downstream throughout the early hours and into Monday afternoon, when the bodies of the men were found.
A yellow weather warning is in place due to the heavy rainfall. It is understood that heavy flooding is not uncommon around the area where the accident occurred.
The men’s bodies have been taken to University Hospital in Castlebar where postmortem examinations are expected to be undertaken on Tuesday. Garda, the Irish police, are continuing to investigate the cause of the incident. The two men’s funerals will be held later this week.
Tributes soon came in for the men, who were said to be well respected in the local community. Public notices said they would be deeply mourned by their “heartbroken” families.
A friend of Needham’s told the Sun: “He had been working in New Zealand where he was doing very well for himself and had decided to come home for good.
“He was well known in the farming community and this has come as a huge shock to all who knew him.”
The Louisburgh Macra Na Feirme, a rural youth organisation which said the men were members, expressed its condolences to the families.
“Unbelievably numbing day today as we learned that these two fine men [were] tragically lost in an accident last night,” read the statement on social media. “Two valued members since the beginning.”
The Mayo independent councillor Christy Hyland said the local community was in shock. “Our thoughts go out to their loved ones, their families and friends,” he said. “This is a terrible tragedy to happen at any time but especially on Christmas morning.”
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