Body recovered from River Shannon was that of a remarkable man who was honoured for his bravery in saving three workers from a blazing oil rig which claimed 167 lives
by Alan Jacques [email protected]
WHEN members of the Limerick Marine Search and Rescue Unit recovered the body of a 57 year-old man from the River Shannon last week, they closed the final chapter of an extraordinary story of heroism and adventure.
The team of volunteer divers had been searching for two women feared drowned in the estuary tides when they retrieved the body of Gareth Parry-Davies, a much-travelled adventurer who managed a local cleaning and maintenance contracting firm.
It wasn’t until almost a week later that his identity was confirmed and the real story of Gareth Parry-Davies began to emerge.
The man who lived at the Strand Apartments in Limerick city centre for the past two years had been honoured for his bravery by Queen Elizabeth for saving three men from a blazing oil rig in the North Sea 27 years ago.
Employed as a diver on the Piper Alpha oil rig at the time of the disaster on July 6, 1988, Gareth Parry-Davies was working 50 feet below the surface when the first blast struck.
Of the 228 men working on the oil and gas-producing platform 125 miles northeast of Aberdeen, only 61 survived.
The heroic and quick-thinking diver managed to save three men on the burning oil rig and was later honoured for his bravery by Queen Elizabeth II. He saved one badly burned survivor on the platform who was gripped with fear, by gently persuading him that he would not let him go.
The platform was completely destroyed by the inferno and it took almost three weeks for the blaze to be brought under control.
Gareth put his own survival down to “luck, teamwork and a strong desire to live” and told an inquiry in Aberdeen following the tragedy that he was struck with an unexplainable guilt at having survived.
The father-of-two never returned to the offshore business or diving after the disaster and battled with depression ever since.
“It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I had survived when so many men had died. Since then, I have suffered depressions and a general lack of confidence,” Mr Parry-Davies, who was 30 at the time, told the inquiry into the tragedy.
Born in Tanzania, he is described by friends in Limerick as a “good man” and a “wonderful and heroic person”.
Gareth’s best friend of 40 years, since their high school days in Brebner High School in Bloemfontein in South Africa, Adrian Cossavella, remembered him fondly this week.
Mr Cossavella described his friend as “a real-life Indiana Jones”.
“Gareth was an explorer really, a total free spirit. He was a phenomenal man, very intelligent and a real character. He loved Limerick and the laid-back way of the Irish people. He was at home here,” Adrian told the Limerick Post.
“Although he had lived for many years in England, he had already set the wheels in motion to become a citizen of his adopted country. He never liked authority and had bit of a wild streak. He had lived many lives and had lots of adventures but I think it’s fitting that it was in Limerick that he said goodbye.”
Gareth lived a full and colourful life. As well as working as a diver on oil rigs, he spent two years in the Air Force and saw active duty during the South African Border War. Mr Parry-Davies also spent time as a diamond prospector in Angola and Zaire and had a passion for music and photography.
“The ghost of Piper Alpha never really left him, and although it was a subject he avoided, the impact became more and more evident. He moved from Colchester to Limerick in 2012 in the hope of getting a new lease on life.
“He loved the local ‘craic’ and enjoyed the South African ‘braai’s’ (barbecue). He became very involved with the local support group GROW, attended meetings for years and becoming a valued and popular member of the organisation. He considered them family and praised them for accepting him without judgement” said Mr Cossavella.
Annelize Eva, a work colleague of Mr Parry-Davies’ at Pro-Clean in Limerick, said he had a “big heart” and would be missed by all who knew him.
“He loved life. He was stern but fair at work. He didn’t take nonsense. He loved Limerick and going in around the Milk Market. We are still in shock. He is going to be missed.”
Gareth Parry-Davies’ remains were recovered from the Shannon near Atlas Avenue off the Dock Road last Tuesday. He is survived by his wife Terry, his son Dylan, daughter Zoe and sister Teresa.
His memorial service will be held at Griffin’s funeral chapel at 2pm this Saturday, June 20.