Sister risked life for family
on 29/01/2013 00:00:00
An inquest in Belfast heard the incident was triggered when Graham Spence entered the tank to rescue a collie dog that had fallen in.
Emma Rice, who was also overcome by the poisonous gases when she climbed down a ladder to try to find her father and brothers, told Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey that she knew how dangerous it was to go into the pit.
"When it comes to the love of your family, it doesn't matter," said Ms Rice.
After helping to pull her father from the pit, Ms Rice passed out and fell back into the slurry as she tried to bring Graham Spence to safety.
She was rescued by neighbours who had rushed to the scene to help.
Mr Leckey said Ms Rice's actions were "extremely brave".
The court heard that Ms Rice, an artist, initially fought off the attempts of neighbours to stop her entering the tank.
"I remember thinking 'they're not going to live in there', so it was just get them out," she said.
Ms Rice's sister Laura and mother Essie were also in court for the first day of the inquest.
The incident happened just after 6pm on Sept 15.
The inquest was told that Nevin and Graham Spence had been working in the farmyard loading wood into the Ulster Rugby star's car, helped by friend Andrew Oliver.
Mr Oliver and Nevin Spence went into the farmhouse after Essie Spence called him for his dinner.
Shortly afterwards, Noel Spence came into the house and said the dog had fallen into the tank.
The tank was located under a shed that housed calves. Accessible through eight manholes, it was around 3m deep and, at the time of the accident, there was around 1m of slurry at the bottom.
The men lowered a ladder into one of the manholes. Graham Spence climbed down with a torch and looked for the dog.
In his statement, which was read to the court in his absence, Mr Oliver said: "After about 15 to 20 seconds it looked like Graham was giving up the search."
Mr Oliver said Graham Spence then started climbing up the ladder again. "At the point when his head was just about at ground level - he had looked fine until then - he passed out and sank back into the tank."
Seeing his brother fall, Nevin Spence then climbed down.
Shortly afterwards, Nevin Spence also succumbed to the poisonous fumes and collapsed into the slurry.
Noel Spence then went into the tank. He managed to retrieve Graham Spence and began carrying him back up the ladder. Mr Oliver grabbed hold of Graham Spence's clothing from above as his father climbed.
"Noel was overcome and fell down the ladder," he said. "I wasn't able to hold Graham without Noel's help."