The Creeslough digger operator was told there were “so many bodies inside and we can’t get to them” to rescue

A backhoe operator who worked tirelessly until the last body was recovered after the Creeslough tragedy said he was spurred on by seeing the victims’ families devastated.

en The explosion in Co Donegal on October 7 last year killed people and injured eight.

The dead are Shauna Flanagan Garwe, five, and her father Robert Garwe, 50, Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13, Leona Harper, 14, Jessica Gallagher, 24, James O’Flaherty (48), Martin McGill (49), Martina Martin (49) and Hugh Kelly (59).

Gardaí are still investigating the cause of the explosion and a gas explosion remains a key line of inquiry.


A Craoslach. Photo credit: TG4

Backhoe operator Henry Gallagher, 47, from Treantagh, near Letterkenny, has made his first public statement on a new series on TG4 current affairs.

Mr Gallagher discussed how he was able to see the grieving relatives of the victims in his rearview mirror as he desperately searched for survivors.

After a call for help from the fire brigade at the scene of the explosion, he volunteered for rescue. Mr Gallagher was informed by one of the senior firefighters that “there are so many bodies inside and we can’t get to them”.

“All you see is a river of safety vests and I know underneath are families waiting for news. The only way they’re going to get word that a loved one has been taken out is for me to come in,” he said.

“I wanted her out. After that I would have stayed in that excavator forever until I got the bodies out.”

Mr Gallagher stayed in the cab of his excavator for 24 hours removing debris from the collapsed building until the last of 10 bodies, that of 14-year-old Leona Harper, was recovered.

The teenager’s mother, Donna Harper, praised Mr Gallagher at her daughter’s funeral.

“I did what anyone else would have done. The common people were amazing. I mean I’ve heard stories of people running into the building, people getting other people out of the building. They took people out and they cried (and) they screamed. Every person we took down wasn’t crying or screaming,” Mr Gallagher told the TG4 documentary Iniúchadh – A Craoslach.

The program examines how local people from the village of Donegal came together immediately after the blast to search the rubble and rescue their neighbors before emergency services arrived at the scene.

Lorry driver Colin Kilpatrick from Raphoe, Co Donegal, who was making a delivery in Cresslough, witnessed the blast and was among the first rescuers on the garage forecourt where he managed to extricate one of the injured by lifting concrete slabs with a jack.

“People got off and people didn’t get off, but what we did worked,” he said.

The program is the first in a new six-part monthly current affairs and investigative documentary series, going behind the headlines of the major Irish news stories being broadcast on TG4 this year.


Kevin Magee. Photo credit: TG4.

The series is presented by award-winning Belfast-based investigative journalist Kevin Magee, who said: “At the time of the tragic event in Creeslough, we were hearing of the extraordinary bravery and bravery of the first wave of rescuers, local people, who ran to help their trapped neighbours before the emergency services arrived. This program gives a voice to the ordinary people who have helped and hear in their own words the extraordinary things they have done, often at great risk to themselves in the face of appalling adversity.”

Iniúchadh TG4 will be broadcast on Wednesday 8th February at 21:30 and can also be viewed worldwide on the TG4 player. The Creeslough digger operator was told there were “so many bodies inside and we can’t get to them” to rescue

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