EMERGENCY services who attended the scene of Sunday’s tragedy at Portballintrae in which 10-year-old Bethany Cousins from Lurgan died, have denied claims they were delayed in reaching the scene.
It had been claimed that a bollard, put in place by Moyle District Council in 2006 for safety reasons, had prevented them from getting to the scene.
Vehicles can get onto the beach via Sand Rodden, a small track leading through the dunes.
The Bushmills and Causeway Railway runs over it and a bollard is in place to stop vehicles going onto the tracks – but it can be lowered if unlocked by a key.
Nevin Taggart, 67, a retired teacher living near Bushmills, said that in the past, fire vehicles had been barred from gaining access to quell small blazes.
It was rumoured there were similar problems on Sunday.
But the Coastguard’s Gordon Munro, in the area at the time of the emergency, said: “We had no problems of access because we had keys for any barriers.
“We had no delays in any shape or form. It was already unlocked when we arrived.
“When I arrived on the scene, all my guys were on the beach. All the emergency vehicles were there within a minute or two of each other.”
Mr Munro, manager of the Coastguard’s Belfast North sector, which covers Londonderry to the Lagan Weir, said the first ambulance crew parked at Portballintrae golf course, then ran along the beach towards the casualty.
A four-wheel drive ambulance then arrived via Sand Rodden.
Mr Munro said: “Unfortunately, it does happen that people fall into the water and or get caught in riptides. Sometimes they get out of it, sometimes they don’t.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. This girl’s lost her life when she was on holiday, bodyboarding and enjoying herself.”
The ambulance service also moved to quash rumours, saying: “NIAS staff were able to unlock the access and were followed onto the beach by Coastguard vehicles taking great care to navigate a course through bollards at the entrance.
“Local NIAS officers are content that the access point used initially facilitated the earliest possible access to the patient.”