A teenager from Douglas has told how he tried in vain to save his older brother and father from drowning in an Irish lake.
Jonathan Christian, 53, and his son Jacob, 17, lost their lives in Lough Keel in County Donegal in 2020.
An inquest into their deaths heard that Mr Christian and his 15-year-old son Benjamin had tried to rescue Jacob when he got into difficulties in the water.
An inquest heard the distraught boy told a worker at the lough who was first at the scene of the tragedy: ‘I couldn’t save them, I couldn’t save them, they went under.’
The inquest opened in Letterkenny last week when written evidence from Benjamin was heard.
He said the three of them had left Douglas on June 6 and had travelled to County Donegal where the family was preparing to put a holiday home up for sale.
Following a number of days working on the property Jacob decided that he wanted to go fishing. Dad John agreed to take the two boys to Lough Keel the next day.
It was late afternoon on June 18 when they set off in their silver Nissan Micra. They had with them their fishing rods, a bait box and a white bucket for holding any fish they caught.
The trio made their way down to the narrow pier where Benjamin and Jacob jumped down on to rocks before entering the water to get to another fishing spot.
But shortly after they cast off the bucket started to float away. It had drifted about ten feet when the older boy jumped in to try and retrieve it. But the ripples from his leap only pushed it further out.
‘Dad kept saying “come back” but Jacob started to act tired,’ said Benjamin.
On seeing the unfolding scene John Christian ran to get a nearby life ring which he threw in the direction of his struggling son.
Benjamin meanwhile stripped off and dived into the lake. His father, who was not a good swimmer, followed him.
Following several minutes in the water an exhausted Benjamin managed to scramble back on to rocks to catch his breath.
‘When I looked back they were gone. Dad’s shoes were floating,’ said Benjamin.
Using his father’s mobile phone which was still sitting on the rocks, the boy managed to ring the emergency services.
First on the scene was Declan Foley who happened to be checking the lake’s water pumps.
He told of walking down to the jetty and seeing the distraught child sitting on the rocks.
‘He was sitting with his hands on his knees and his head down. He had no top or socks or shoes on. I could see he was crying. He asked me could I help him,’ the witness said.
Mr Foley took the phone from the child and explained to the emergency services where exactly they were.
‘The boy told me his name was Benjamin,’ he said.
‘He was upset and difficult to understand. He spoke with an accent and he told me “I couldn’t save them, I couldn’t save them, they went under”. He said he nearly got them but all he could do was float.’
The inquest heard that Lough Keel was used by anglers and swimmers but was not designed for recreational use.
Coastguard Officer Roisin McBride said Mr Christian’s body was found shortly before 4.30pm followed two hours later by that of his son.
He said lough swimming was difficult as there was no natural buoyancy.
‘‘You get tired a lot quicker. It also tends to be colder than the sea and even though it was June, the water temperature would have been cold,’ he said.
Detective Garda John Madigan said the depth of the water from the rocks where the two young boys had been fishing went straight down to six feet and only got deeper from there.
Consultant Pathologist Dr Gerry O’Dowd confirmed that death was caused by drowning.
Coroner for County Donegal Dr Denis McCauley adjourned the hearing following the emergence of new information regarding John Christian’s health and how he and his sons came to be in Ireland.
The inquest will resume on April 19.