A man who was found inside a car at the bottom of Lough Erne 18 years after he disappeared drove into the water at speed before drowning, a coroner has concluded.
ichael Anthony Lynch, known as Tony, was last seen alive on January 6, 2002.
At his inquest sitting in Laganside court on Wednesday, his widow Angela recalled how he had left the marital home in Magheraveely, Co Fermanagh, at the end of November 2001.
“He moved into a flat with the intention of sorting out his alcohol problem,” she said.
“He was drinking heavily and was very depressed.
“He told me he would come back home.”
However, Ms Lynch never saw her husband again.
She described two phone calls – including one just before Christmas – that she had with her late husband after he moved to Co Monaghan.
“He sounded like he had had a drink,” Ms Lynch said.
“He told me he would come to see us at Christmas. But he never did come – even though children were waiting on him.”
The father-of-four, whose alcoholism and depression worsened following the death of his mother in June 2001, called again in the new year.
“It was in the early hours of the morning, sounded sober,” Ms Lynch recalled.
“He said he was sorry – and that he couldn’t come back the way he was.
“He reassured me he still loved me and the children.
“I never heard from him again after that phone call.”
The heartbroken widow told the inquest there was no hint of “finality” in his words.
Barman Patrick Cassidy was the last person to have seen the 54-year-old alive at 6.30pm on January 6, 2002.
He told the inquest that Mr Lynch came into the hotel bar near Clones and drank two glasses of whiskey as he watched TV with another punter.
“He was quiet and unassuming,” Mr Cassidy said.
“He certainly appeared sober to me.”
The witness recalled that there had been a conflict between his boss and the deceased the previous weekend, but said it had been resolved.
“When he finished his drinks he said ‘see you boys’ and then left,” Mr Cassidy recalled.
James Lynch reported his brother missing to Gardai on January 9, 2002.
For almost two decades there was no trace of the missing person, who left no clues and no suicide note.
The digger driver’s white Mitsubishi Galant was eventually discovered by chance in Corradilar quay near Lisnaskea by two fishermen using sonar imaging technology – some 11 bodies of water had previously been searched by PSNI and gardai.
The coroner accepted evidence from PSNI sergeant Hutchings and Garda sergeant Leech who said the vehicle was discovered 20 metres from the water’s edge by police divers on May 18, 2020.
Skeletal remains were found in the driver seat with the seatbelt still fastened.
A post-mortem examination identified the deceased by dental records, but could not ascertain the cause of death due to the extent of decay.
The coroner found that Mr Lynch “had a history of low mood, depression and alcoholism”.
Mrs Ann-Louise Toal said, on the balance of probabilities, the deceased took his own life by “entering the water at speed” late on January 6 or early on January 7, 2002.
She said Mr Lynch died by drowning, before adding: “I pass on my condolences to his family and hope this brings them some closure.”