Quarry teen drowning victim to be laid to rest

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Hundreds of mourners are expected to attend the funeral in Strabane this morning of the teenager who drowned in a disused quarry in the town earlier this week.

Rhys Jack (17), died despite frantic efforts by friends to rescue him at around 6.30pm on Monday. He had been with pals on a makeshift dingy enjoying the mini heatwave when he got into difficulties in the water.

There were heartbreaking scenes as rescue teams scoured the site for the missing teenager.

Police divers aided by a specially trained search and recovery dog retrieved the teenager’s body from the 15 metres deep quarry at Strahans Road shortly after lunchtime on Tuesday.

Members of Foyle Search and Rescue also took part in the operation.

Local Parish Priest Fr Michael Doherty, local community and elected representatives comforted and supported family members and young people who gathered at the scene to wait for news.

Local Sinn Fein MLA Michaela Boyle, said the local community was totally devastated by the tragedy.

Brian McMahon, chairman of Strabane District Council, paid tribute to Rhys’ friends for their valiant efforts, and the rescue and emergency services who recovered his body.

It was the third drowning tragedy to strike Rhys’ family. His mother Lorraine’s five year-old brother Eddie McGarrigle drowned in 1972 after wandering towards the River Mourne on the edge of the Ballycolman Estate close to his home. His body was never found.

A member of the extended Jack family drowned in the nearby River Finn in the 1960s.

Fr Doherty said the families were devastated by young Rhys’ death but relieved that his body had been recovered. Counsellors have been offering support to Rhys’ friends who have been left traumatised by his death.

Paul Connolly was one of the young men who had been with him at the quarry.

Writing on his facebook page on Tuesday, he said: “Learnt a lesson yesterday that’s gona stick with me the rest of my life, any thing can happen in such a quick time and expect the unexpected cause noone expected that, we tryed or best and done what we could! Never thought ad go thru that experience, R.I.P Rhys buddy, happens the best, ur in peace now!”

It was the third drowning tragedy in the Strabane area in the past three years. Three years ago this week, 21-year-old local chef Dale Alexander drowned while swimming at Sion Mills. Last May, 22-year-old Lifford man David Colhoun drowned in the River Mourne after fleeing from police in Strabane. His body was recovered in March this year after a painstaking ten month search.

The old quarry at Strahans Road has long been a magnet for young people during hot weather. It is understood the owner had taken steps to restrict access but it proved difficult to seal off completely.

The flooded quarry is notoriously hazardous and in the past contained dead animal carcases and other items dumped at the location. There have now been calls for it to be drained.

Melmount is expected to come to a standstill this morning for Rhys’ funeral which will leave his home at Church Court at 9.15 a.m.for Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Church at 10 a.m. Interment will take place afterwards in the adjoining cemetery.

Many young people will be among the mourners and a guard of honour will be formed by pupils from Holy Cross College where Rhys had been a pupil. Members of the PSNI and rescue teams who searched for the teenager will also be represented.

The family have asked for donations in lieu of flowers to Foyle Search and Rescue.

Rhys, who would have turned 18 in August, is survived by his grieving parents Lorraine and Mark, brother Ryan, sister Rhiannon, grandparents Margaret and Noel McGarrigle and George Jack.