Community grief at sea tragedy death

THE child who lost her live in an accident at Portballnitrae on Sunday has been named as Bethnay Cousins from Lurgan.

The death has brought a great deal of sadness not only to the North Antrim community, but to her own home town where she and her family were held in the highest regard.

The schoolgirl had been body-boarding and had fallen into the water around 40 to 50 metres offshore.

There was fairly rough sea in the area, according to the Coastguard, and it is thought she got caught in some kind of riptide and swallowed large quantities of sea water.

Her father Alister, who works as a firefighter at Lurgan Fire Station, tried to resuscitate her but she later died in hospital.

Mayor of Craigavon Councillor Carla Lockhart knows the family in question.

She said: “It’s devastating. She was going to [go to] Lurgan Junior High School. She’s just finished at King’s Park Primary.

“It’s absolute shock and devastation. It’s just a wee life lost in such tragic circumstances.

“My sympathies are with the Cousins family at this very tough time. I’ve spoken with the family and – as you can imagine – they’re absolutely devastated.

“It’s very hard to even find words of comfort. All I can say is that my thoughts and prayers are with them and I hope the Lord will help them through the days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead.”

John Allen, southern area commander for the fire service, said: “At this stage, as colleagues in the fire and rescue service, our thoughts and prayers are with Alister and his family and we would like to support him in any way we can.

We just wish to offer him our support and respect his family’s privacy”

Stephen Moutray, DUP MLA for Upper Bann, said he also knows the family involved.

He said: “Our prayers and sympathies are with the family at this tragic time. There is an element of shock and disbelief in the Lurgan area as to what happened.”

The girl was named as being 10 years old by police, but others claim she was 11.

The stretch of beach on which the tragedy unfolded is known as Bushfoot Strand, Runkerry Beach or Blackrock Strand.

According to the Coastguard, the swell – the height between the crest and trough of the wave – was between one and two metres on Sunday.

Coleraine East councillor David Harding, UUP, said: “Local people would know not to swim there. It’s too dangerous.

“Everybody knows its trecherous – the undertow pulls your feet from under you.

“There are a lot of surfers there, but they’re in a group and know what they’re doing.

“In general, Portballintrae is a very safe place. We have not had – thank goodness – many tragedies like this.”

Councillor Sandra Hunter, chairman of Moyle District Council, also offered her sympathies, while Aidan McPeake, the council’s director of environmental services, said a full review would be carried out on safety around the beach.

l The funeral service will take place at Shankill Parish Church tomorrow at 3pm.