The bravery and courage of the three friends of Rachel Herbert in escaping from the overturned car and raising the alarm was lauded by Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, the coroner for North Mayo.
Rachel Herbert, Kate McLoughlin, Rebecca Langan and Carrie McAndrew had earlier met up at Rachel’s home in Knockmore and were enjoying life like normal teenage girls.
“All the girls went up to Rachel’s room, we were talking and putting on make-up and just having fun,” explained Kate.
After eating some pizza which was prepared by Sandra, they all gathered in the sitting room and took a group photo on Rachel’s camera. They were not to know that this would be the last photo the friends would have together.
Sandra worked for the Road Safety Authority in Ballina and both she and Rachel had their seat belts on as they travelled. The message we are often and rightly told is that seat belts save lives but as Dr Fitzgerald pointed out, by not having their seat belts on the three girls were able to escape and prevent an even greater tragedy.
With cold water pouring in around them and in pitch darkness, the three girls showed maturity beyond their years to escape from the upturned car and raise the alarm.
From the evidence of the inquest, it appears that Kate McLoughlin led the way after initially suffering a ‘black out’. She managed to use the light of a mobile phone and unlock a door and push it open.
Holding each other’s hands the three girls helped each other out of the car and battling through thorns and stinging nettles they helped each other up the 10 foot bank.
“It was hard to get up the bank, it was all stingy nettles,” Carrie recalled. “Kate got up first, I grabbed the nettles and pulled myself up. Rebecca was still in the river and was panicking. I grabbed her hand and helped her up.”
Out of the river, the three girls ran through the darkness screaming for help and managed to flag down a jeep and within minutes a number of people were on the scene in an effort to save both Sandra and Rachel.
Inspector Joe Doherty said they had shown bravery in ‘very difficult circumstances’ on the night and said the gardaí were available to help them in any way they could.
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