A DIGGER driver who refused to stop until he had recovered every body from the debris of the Creeslough explosion claims he simply ‘had to get them out’.
Henry Gallagher, 47, from Treantagh, near Letterkenny in County Donegal, has spoken out for the first time about his experience in an interview with TG4 for its new current affairs series Iniúchadh.
The programme, presented by award-winning Belfast-based investigative journalist Kevin Magee, will air on February 8.
In it Mr Gallagher tells that when the explosion occurred at the service station in the small Donegal town on October 7, 2022, he knew he had to do what he could to help get to the bodies.
“You just see a river of high vis vests (behind me) and I know that among that, there are families waiting on news,” he told TG4.
“The only way that they are going to get the news of a loved one being taken out, is for me to get in.”
He added: “I wanted them out. I would have stayed in that digger for ages after that just until I got the bodies out.”
The digger driver revealed that he volunteered to take part in the recovery operation following a plea for help by the fire brigade at the scene of the explosion.
“One of the lead firemen came up to me and described that there’s so many bodies inside, and we can’t get at them”, he said.
Mr Gallagher remained in the cab of his excavator for twenty-four hours removing rubble from the collapsed building until the last body of the ten victims, that of 14-year-old Leona Harper, was recovered.
The teenager’s mother Donna Harper singled Mr Gallagher out for praise at her daughter’s funeral.
Regarding his rescue efforts, Mr Gallagher told TG4: “I done what any other person would have done.
“The ordinary people were amazing. I mean I’ve heard stories of people running in to the building, people bringing other people out of the building.
“They were taking people out and they were crying (and) they were screaming. Any person we took out, wasn’t crying or screaming.”
The documentary ‘Iniúchadh TG4 – An Craoslach’ further investigates how locals from the Donegal village came together in the immediate aftermath of the explosion to pick through the rubble of Lafferty’s garage to rescue their neighbours before the emergency services arrived on the scene.
Lorry driver Colin Kilpatrick from Raphoe, Co. Donegal who was making a delivery in Cresslough witnessed the explosion and was among the first rescuers at the garage forecourt where he managed to help free one of the injured by using a car jack to lift concrete slabs.
“People got out and people didn’t get out, but what we done, worked,” he said.
Ten people lost their lives and eight were injured in the explosion at Lafferty’s supermarket in Creeslough on October 7.
The dead were five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her dad Robert Garwe, 50, Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13.
Leona Harper, 14, Jessica Gallagher, 24, James O’Flaherty, 48, Martin McGill, 49,Martina Martin, 49 and Hugh Kelly, 59, also lost their lives.
The Gardaí are still investigating the cause of the blast. A gas explosion remains a major line of inquiry.
The programme is the first of a new six-part monthly current affairs and investigative documentaries looking behind the headlines of major Irish news stories that will be broadcast by TG4 this year.
Iniúchadh TG4 airs on TG4 on Wednesday, February 8 at 9.30pm and will also be available to view worldwide on TG4 Player.