Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Cullyhanna teenager sole survivor of fatal crash

A Cullyhanna teenager is continuing his recovery from injuries sustained in a horror car crash, which claimed the lives of two of his friends.

TJ McCormack (17) was the sole survivor of the tragic accident, which occurred on the Cladymilltown Road, between Newtownhamilton and Markethill around 8.30am on Wednesday morning last.

His friends Andrew Gass from Tullyvallen and Mark Hutcheson from Mountnorris, both aged 17, were killed in the single-vehicle smash.

The trio were on their way to a skills competition in Portadown, relating to their work at Southern Regional College in Armagh where they were studying fabrication and welding.

TJ had been travelling in the rear of the Vauxhall Astra, which left the road and struck a tree.  He was taken to Craigavon Hospital for treatment to what police have described as “non life-threatening injuries”.

Thick fog and heavy rain made visibility extremely poor and conditions treacherous at the time.

Andrew and Mark were lifelong friends who have been described as “caring” and “hardworking” and the fatality has sent shockwaves across the area, prompting an outpouring of sympathy for the bereaved families and friends.

In a statement, the Southern Regional College said its governing body and staff are “deeply saddened” while chief executive Brian Doran, said he wished to convey his “deepest sympathies and condolences” to the families, and said his thoughts were with the third student who survived.

“Staff and students were deeply shocked and saddened at the tragic death of two young students who were great characters and shared a close bond throughout school and more recently at the Southern Regional College,” he added.

DUP MLA William Irwin visited the scene of the tragedy and said it is “a horrific loss for the families of both young men”.

“Having lost a child of my own in a swimming accident some years back, I know just how painful and totally devastating this will be for the families involved and words really cannot describe the anguish this awful ordeal brings,” he added.

Sinn Fein’s Cathal Boylan said the tragedy has shocked and saddened the local community and he urged road users to exercise caution when driving in poor weather conditions.

“My thoughts, and those of local people, are with the family and friends of the two young men who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances,” he added.

SDLP Councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley has expressed her sympathy and said: “My thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s families at this devastating time and also with the injured passenger and I hope he makes a full recovery from this heartbreaking accident.  Two families have been absolutely devastated today and no words will bring them comfort at this time but the prayers of the entire community are with them so that they may find the strength to face this.”

She also urged all road users to take extra care at all times.

Commenting on the tragedy, Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said: “This is a terrible tragedy and I offer my sincere sympathy to the families and friends of those involved. I have no doubt that the local community will support the families in every way, and they will be in the thoughts and prayers of everyone at this sad and very difficult time.”

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan issued a reminder to all road users to take care when driving in difficult conditions such as fog and rain.

He said: “My thoughts are with all of the families and the communities who have lost loved ones or who have loved ones suffering serious injuries. I know that the pain of such a loss is deeply felt for a long time.

“These deaths serve as a reminder of the danger we all face when we use the road – it is the most dangerous thing that most of us do every day. We take it for granted, but we cannot afford to do so.”

Police have appealed for anyone who witnessed the collision or who noticed the Vauxhall Astra being driven on the Cladymilltown Road on Wednesday morning to contact them on 101.