Sunday, 15 July 2012

Moyle District Council - Emergency Access to Bushfoot Strand

Remove the Bollard

It's not just a health and safety issue
It could be a life or death issue

Edwin Poots
Minister for Public Safety

Minister**, there are a range of issues 
surrounding this tragedy that need to be addressed.

1. Sufficient and clear warning signs of the hazards.
2.  Quick and easy access for emergency service vehicles.
3. One name for the location: Bushfoot Strand - as shown on OS maps

click >  The arrival of the bollard
August 2007

Access to Runkerry Beach via Sand Rodden

The TDRM stated that a request had been received from the Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway that due to increase number of vehicles causing serious health and safety implication in relation to the level crossing at the Sand Rodden, that the gates on both sides of the crossing should now be padlocked.

The TSM recommended a collapsible bollard would be best placed at the level crossing at the Sand Rodden.

After discussion, it was agreed that a collapsible bollard would be placed on vehicular access to Runkerry Beach via the Sand Rodden crossing at Ardihannon.

Moyle District Council Minutes 13 Nov 2006 [DOC]

click>  Bollard blocks ready access for emergency vehicles
May 2008
 I'm told that the fire was reported about 2:40pm and the first of the tenders was there by 3pm. The firefighters didn't have a key to lower the bollards; I understand one was eventually delivered by a member of the railway staff about 3:40pm just before I'd arrived. .. May 2008

[click on images to enlarge]

Padlock removed; in the past there has been both a padlock on the bollard as well as a heavy chain and padlock securing the crossing-gate to the post. I'm told that the emergency service vehicles drove down the Sand Rodden to this barrier, (one or more) [edit] turned around, drove back up and then along Runkerry Road and then returned to the barrier at the Sand Rodden^^. I'm also told that a emergency vehicle was being driven from Ballycastle with the repeated request from HQ to 'Make Best Speed'. Was it carrying a key to the padlock?

Tracks on the grass

Tracks in the mud

Where the Sand Rodden meets Bushfoot Strand

Looking across the waves to Portballintrae

Ulster Unionist councillor [and Moyle District Council chair] Sandra Hunter said: “My thoughts and prayers are with the young girl’s family at this harrowing time.”

This BBC NI news report highlights the muddle over naming, a muddle that could cause critical delay. Bushfoot Strand, Runkerry Beach and Bushmills Strand are one and the same so let's stick to the Ordnance Survey name: Bushfoot Strand.

The naming issue is becoming even more surreal: "She fell into the sea at Bushtown Strand shortly after 2pm on Sunday." UTV website

A Facebook friend has just flagged up a related issue; this had already been drawn to my attention by a Moyle councillor last night. She says that bollards block access to the road down to the Causeway stones from 9 am to 9 pm. This is a right of way but, much more importantly, the emergency services shouldn't have to hang around while a key or the key manager is located.

Added July 17

We need some timings and a more detailed comment from witnesses about what they heard and maybe saw.  Please contact this blog via details at the top of the webpage,

I think this UTV commentary is too ambiguous:

"Wilkinson: A man went into the water to help after he had raised the alarm with the emergency services. 

Munro: A gentleman had been walking his dog seen the girl get into difficulty and had called the coastguard by 999 and then got in and effected a rescue and helped extract the girl from the surf. A passer-by, police and other people decided to continue with CPR until the ambulance service arrived.

Wilkinson: Bushfoot Strand runs from Portballintrae towards the Giants Causeway. At the Causeway end a bollard had to be unlocked to allow an emergency response vehicle onto the beach and, before that, the first ambulance to arrive onto the scene couldn't take their vehicle any further than the golf-course. Because they were unable to bring their ambulance onto the beach three paramedics then walked along the strand to reach the little girl. It took them thirteen minutes to reach her after the initial emergency call."

We have second witness evidence^^ that three vehicles sped from Portballintrae to Bushmills and then out towards the Causeway: a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) and two Coastguard vehicles, one with a trailer attached. Photos show three such vehicles on the strand beside a group of people. Call out time has been given by one source as 14:04, by another as just after 14:00.

Presumably an ambulance could have gone into the car-park at the end of Beach Road, Portballintrae, lowered the (Coleraine Borough Council?) bollard there and driven down to west side of the foot-bridge across the River Bush. Clarification is needed about what happened at the Sand Rodden, the only road access for the Coastguard and emergency response vehicles to Bushfoot Strand. If they had keys they could/should have gone there directly rather than via Portballintrae, a route that added an additional 3 to 6 miles to their travel - depending on their place of departure. 

Delays may not avert tragedies but they certainly heighten the risk.


^^ This second witness - independent of the first witness - has shed some additional light on the difficulties confronted by the emergency services. I'm told that the first emergency services vehicle to arrive in Portballintrae was an RRV and this was followed by an ambulance. The ambulance may have gone to the Beach Road car-park but it came back up Ballaghmore Road and turned left down to Bushfoot Golf Club; presumably its personnel made their way down to the River Bush and over the foot-bridge that leads on to Bushfoot Strand. I'm told a second ambulance appeared and made its way down to the golf club.

Two Coastguard vehicles appeared and drove along Ballaghmore Road into Portballintrae. These two vehicles then returned accompanied by an RRV. They were heading towards Bushmills and could be heard making their up the Whitepark Road towards the Causeway; they were identified as looking very like the three vehicles that later appeared in photos from Bushfoot Strand. All three vehicles returned to Bushmills and headed out to Portballintrae; they subsequently retraced their route out towards the Causeway. What were the reasons for all this movement hither and thither when their services may have been required on Bushfoot Strand? Photographic evidence shows the time of arrival and departure of the RRV from the incident spot on the strand.

The second witness also observed a black car parked in front of the bollarded roadway in the Beach Road car-park that Coleraine Borough Council vehicles use to get access down to the foot-bridge; there was no-one in the black car but its hazard warning lights were flashing. Perhaps its personnel had gone down onto Bushfoot Strand. Some time later this car was observed travelling speedily on the Ballaghmore Road towards Bushmills and later on returning to Portballintrae, overtaking any cars that were maintaining the speed limit. What was the reason for leaving Portballintrae? Had it gone to collect people or medication or equipment?

Added July 19

Return to the Sand Rodden - a second visit within a few days by the emergency services.

** Minister has already acknowledged request - 8 am July 16