Police divers have found the body of a Strabane teenager drowned in a disused quarry.
A major search operation was launched last night after 17-year old Rhys Jack after he got into trouble while swimming in the old quarry at Strahans Road on the outskirts of the town.
Police have confirmed his body was found earlier this afternoon.
Emergency services were called to the scene shortly before 6.30pm after a report that a man was in distress and had gone under the water.
One of Rhys’ young friends has described how they battled in vain to rescue the 17-year-old when he got into difficulty. His friend thinks Rhys may have taken a leg cramp but he was powerless to save him as he shouted out his name before disappearing underwater.
The same friend returned to the disused quarry this morning to pinpoint the exact spot where Rhys disappeared in the flooded quarry. Police divers and a specially trained search and recovery dog have been deployed in the search.
It’s understood the friends had been on the water in a makeshift raft they had found at the old quarry site and were swimming back to dry land when the tragedy unfolded.
Local Sinn Fein MLA Michaela Boyle, who has been helping to support Rhys’ family, says the pain and anguish is unimaginable for his loved ones.
“All you can do in such circumstances is to try and comfort family members as best you can but there is no way I could even begin imagine the anguish and pain that the family has been going through since first receiving this terrible news yesterday evening,” Ms Boyle says.
“The community in Strabane is totally devastated for the family and, as in the aftermath of the tragedy surrounding David Colhoun, will rally round to support them in the days ahead.”
Brian McMahon, chairman of Strabane District Council, extended his deepest sympathy to the family of the teenager.
“As the hours went by last night a sense of sad resignation set in and the sense of shock and disbelief was replaced by palpable sense of sorrow.
“I would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest sympathy to the family of young Rhys at this most difficult of times and they will be in everyone’s thoughts and prayers in the difficult days ahead.
“I would also pay tribute to the unstinting work of all the rescue and emergency services who have attended the scene. Our thoughts must also be with the three young friends who tried so valiantly to save Rhys and acknowledge the trauma that they also must be going through.
“Obviously the issue of this quarry, which is a death trap, needs to be ultimately addressed but the immediate concern must remain in supporting this family in their grief in the days ahead.”
This is the second drowning tragedy to strike Rhys’ family. His mother Lorraine was born just a week after her five-year-old brother Eddie McGarrigle went missing, feared drowned, in March 1972. His body has never been found and there is a plaque in his memory on the waterwall along the River Mourne at Melvin.
Rhys’ grandparents Margaret and Noel are now re-living those painful memories as they mourn the loss of their teenage grandson.
Counsellors from the Koram Centre in Strabane have been assisting those affected by this latest tragedy. Melmount Parish Priest Fr Michael Doherty has also been comforting the Jack and McGarrigle families.
This is the third drowning tragedy in the Strabane area in the past three years.
Exactly three years ago this week, 21-year-old local chef Dale Alexander drowned while swimming during a heatwave in the River Mourne at Sion Mills.
Last May 22-year-old Lifford man David Colhoun drowned in the River Mourne after fleeing from police in Strabane. His family believe that he had been attempting to swim across to Lifford. His body was only recovered in March this year after a painstaking ten month search.