UK & World News
Slurry Tank Tragedy: Rugby Star Among Dead
Ulster Rugby player Nevin Spence has died alongside his father and brother after an accident at a slurry tank on the family's farm in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Sky News Ireland Correspondent David Blevins said the tragedy began when the 22-year-old rugby star's father Noel fell into the tank as he tried to rescue the family dog.
Nevin's brother Graham went to the aid of his father, but was overcome by fumes. Nevin and his sister Emma then tried to save both their father and brother.
All three men lost their lives. Two died at the scene, the third was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.
Emma Spence, an artist well known for her paintings of Ulster rugby players, is being treated for fume inhalation.
Nevin Spence was a member of the Ulster Rugby squad that reached the European Heineken Cup final last season, and he was predicted to have a successful international career ahead of him.
He had made an impressive 43 appearances for Ulster. He had also played for Ireland's Under 20s and received a call up for last year's six nations.
Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan, and director of rugby David Humphreys, paid tribute to the young star at a news conference in Belfast.
Mr Logan said Nevin died with an "immense future in front of him".
"In his 22 years he was a model individual and a model professional," Mr Logan said.
"He was a man of absolute integrity, complete determination, great humility, a fine team player and an all-round exceptional individual."
Mr Humphreys described Nevin as "a dream player to work with".
"He was one of those players you sat down to talk about what his future held, (and) where he saw his future going. He had a very simple answer," Mr Humphreys said.
"He was born in Ulster, he came through school in Ulster, he played rugby for Ulster, and all he wanted to do for the remainder of his career was stay here, win trophies and be successful with Ulster."
Off the pitch, Nevin spoke publicly of his deep Christian faith and regularly took part in church services.
The player's agent, Cornerflag Management, released a statement saying: "It was with great sadness and deep regret that we learned of the sudden and tragic passing of Nevin, his father Noel and brother Graham in an accident on their family farm on Saturday afternoon.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Spence family at this extremely sad time."
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said on Twitter: "Deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Hillsborough this evening. My thoughts and prayers are with family at this time of devastation."
Emergency services were called to the scene in Drumlough Road in Hillsborough, at around 6:00pm.
They found all four members of the family in the tank.
On many farms, slurry - a combination of cow manure and water - is stored in a special tank until it is ready to be applied to the land as fertiliser for plants.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said: "Three people were unconscious and NIAS paramedics commenced resuscitation efforts immediately assisted by other ambulance personnel.
"One of the four showed initial signs of responding to the efforts of the crews and was transported immediately to the nearby Lagan Valley Hospital, where unfortunately he died a short time later.
"Despite the best efforts of all involved the other two men died at the scene.
"A female was treated at the scene and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she is recovering from the effects of fume inhalation."
Blevins said: "The family are well known and well respected in their local community and in Northern Ireland as a whole."
He said it was not uncommon for farm workers to fall into a slurry tank, and sometimes two people have to be rescued when someone climbs in to help them.
But he said it was very unusual for four people to be pulled from a tank.
Tributes poured in from across the rugby world and beyond for the sportsman and his family.
Former Ireland and Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tweeted: "Terrible news on Nevin Spence, his Brother and their Dad. Offering up prayers for their family and friends, unbelievably sad."
Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy also tweeted his condolences, saying: "Just heard the tragic news of Nevin Spence and his family. Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth."
The Ulster Farmers' Union said the tragedy had shocked the entire farming community.
UFU president Harry Sinclair said: "On behalf of all our members, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family involved.
"This news has shocked the farming community. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the three men who have so tragically lost their lives."