Parents of student (22) who died in blowhole tragedy praise friends who tried to save him

ireland
Parents Of Student (22) Who Died In Blowhole Tragedy Praise Friends Who Tried To Save Him Parents Of Student (22) Who Died In Blowhole Tragedy Praise Friends Who Tried To Save Him
The inquest of Conor King (pictured) heard his death would have been immediate and he would not have suffered. Photo: Supplied by Vivienne Clarke
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Olivia Kelleher

The mother of a 22-year-old student who fell 60 feet to his death down a blowhole while camping in Garretstown, Co Cork, has paid an emotional tribute to his friends who made heroic efforts to save him.

The inquest into the death of Conor King from Douglas heard his friend Gary Barrett, who was a trained lifeguard, immediately went into the blowhole in the aftermath of the incident which occurred at around 11.30pm on April 24th, 2021.

Coroner Frank O’Connell said a group of Conor’s friends were having an “innocent” night, having pitched a tent and lit a fire when tragedy struck.

Conor, who was a biomedical engineering student at Munster Technological University (MTU), stood up and took a few steps backwards, not realising he was so close to a blowhole.

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The inquest in Bandon courthouse heard Mr Barrett, having made his way into the blowhole, performed CPR for 40 minutes and had to be persuaded by the emergency services to leave the area to receive treatment for hypothermia, not wanting to be lifted from the blowhole without his friend.

He had run into the sea to gain access to the blowhole from the seaward side in order to assist Conor.

Other friends had also attempted to help in the rescue in the blowhole, using their phones as torches and doing everything they could to assist prior to the arrival of the emergency services.

Forever in debt

At the conclusion of the inquest Conor's mother, Maura, made a heartfelt speech to her son's friends who had given evidence at the inquest.

Ms King said she was forever in the debt of her son’s wonderful group of friends, asking them to remember the “beautiful days” they had with Conor before his life was ended so prematurely.

"I can’t explain the love I have for you and how well I wish you in your future careers.

"You have to live your lives. You have to cherish the lives you have."

Her husband, Eamonn also addressed the friends of his only son, saying he was conscious of how good they were to Conor during a life in which he packed in a lot of living.

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Mr King added that he was glad Conor had fun on the night, even if it ended in such tragedy.

The inquest had heard evidence from several of the 22-year-old's friends, who had gone camping in Garretstown beach on the night of the tragedy.

Fall

Mark Morton, who knew Conor since first year in Christian Brothers’ College (CBC), said that one minute Conor was talking to them and the next he had fallen into the blowhole.

Mr Morton said they put on their phone flashlights and could see Conor in the blowhole. They started shouting, hoping they could wake him.

He told gardaí in his statement that Conor “looked perfect” but was completely unresponsive.

Mr Morton told the Coroner that Mr Barrett immediately went to Conor's aid, swimming into the blowhole through an opening. He added that Mr Barrett administered CPR and “cradled King to stop the waves from hitting him”.

He said he did not see Conor fall as it was so dark and there "wasn’t a sound" in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Another friend, Peter Kilbride, said Conor simply took a few steps back and on his fourth or fifth step fell into the blowhole which they had not realised was there.

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The inquest heard a slight incline, along with the darkness, made the blowhole even more deceptive to the eye.

A third friend, Ronan Keogh, said they had been play wrestling and Conor had jokingly said “who is next?”

Conor then took a few steps backwards and fell into the blowhole.

It just looked like he was asleep

"He didn’t scream. I thought he had fallen on to the ledge. Gary was holding Conor and it just looked like he was asleep."

Irish Coastguard volunteer Eamon Barry, who assisted in the rescue, paid tribute to Mr Barrett for his heroism in attempting to save Conor.

“Gary was experiencing hypothermia but he was very reluctant to leave his friend.”

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said death would have been immediate and that Conor would not have suffered. Conor’s blood alcohol level was consistent with him only having six or seven pints of alcohol.

Dr Bolster said Conor died of poly-trauma with head, chest and abdominal injuries consistent with a fall.

The Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death, stating he planned to write to Cork County Council about the possibility of setting up a danger sign or fencing-off the area near the blowhole.

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Speaking to Cork's 96FM following the inquest, Ms King said urgent action is needed on this point, stating the area is yet to be fenced off over a year after the tragedy.

However, after the council said it did not own the land in question, Ms King said she considered raising funds herself to erect protective barriers.

Condolences

During the inquest, both Mr O'Connell and gardaí offered their heartfelt condolences to Conor's family and friends.

Mr O'Connell also paid tribute to Mr Barrett for his “heroic bravery” on the night whilst commending Mr Barry of the Irish Coastguard, whom he said prevented any further tragedy from occurring when he enabled the rescue operation which saw Mr Barrett taken form the blowhole.

Conor King was laid to rest on what would have been his 23rd birthday.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Conor's family asked mourners to donate to West Cork Rapid Response and West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue in lieu of flowers.

Since Conor's passing, his family and friends have raised thousands of euro in his memory for the emergency services.

At Conor’s funeral mass in St Patrick's Church in Rochestown, Cork, Ms King said her had succeeded in squeezing a “hundred years” into his short life.

She said they had found it impossible to conjure up the words to best describe their one-of-a-kind son, adding that her daughter, Áine had “new brothers and sisters” in Conor's loyal friends.

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