A survivor of the 1981 Stardust fire described lying with her friend on the floor of the ballroom as it went up in flames, “happy” that they had found each other and “resigned that we were going to die.”
Deborah Osbourne, who was 19 at the time of the disaster, told Dublin Coroner’s Court on Thursday that she and Sandra Lawless, 18, from Coolock, who died in the fire, became separated after they collected their coats after they saw the fire.
They were there with their friends Paula Lewis, 19, from Coolock, who also died, and Mary Heeney. Ms Osbourne said the lights were “dimmed” before they put on their coats and the four held hands as they made their way towards Exit 5.
As the heat increased, Ms. Osbourne said they let go of each other’s hands to protect their faces.
“I stood there and couldn’t see anything,” she said. “I screamed and called their names. Finally I fell to the ground… It was very difficult to get back up because people were panicking. So I crawled across the floor.
“The pain of the heat that you couldn’t explain to anyone, and the fear. I remember thinking. “Please let me see heaven.” Please, please let me see my mother and father. The fear never left me, but the pain – after a while you don’t feel the pain anymore. The pain just goes away.”
She said she found Sandra. “We hugged each other. I had her face in my hands and her face was red and she said, “Deborah, we’re going to die.” And I say, “No, we’re not Sandra” and we both lie down.
“And at this stage it’s very hard to explain, you’re still scared but you don’t feel anything… I hope this brings comfort to Sandra’s father and Paula’s mother, you don’t feel anything. It’s like going to a beautiful place,” she said.
“I just wanted to go somewhere nice. You’re moving towards something. It’s there and you’re just reaching to get there. We were happy to have found each other. We wanted to go to sleep. That’s what it felt like.”
Ms Lawless’s siblings and their father Paul were present on the 73rd day of the new inquest into the deaths of 48 people aged 16 to 27 in the north Dublin nightclub fire in the early hours of February 14, 1981.
Ms Osbourne said the fact that tables and chairs were attached to the floor made it difficult for them to exit.
“You think you’re going to die. The end has come. That was it. The end has come. It got to a point where we were resigned to the fact that we were going to die. I found Sandra. I was happy and I know she was happy. And I’m glad I saw her before she died. We were happy that we found each other at that moment.”
Ms Osbourne said she was then “pushed” by Ms Heeney, who told her to get up. “I said, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t.’ But I got up and to this day I don’t know why I didn’t take Sandra with me. I’m sorry. We stumbled, maybe half a meter, feeling the fresh air. We crawled out through Exit 5.”
The statement of then 16-year-old Damien Fallon was entered into the record. He described watching a girl “walk towards the door” in Exit 5 on the side of the venue.
“It seemed like she was going around in circles. Everyone shouted to tell her where the door was. She didn’t have a dress. It was burned down. Everyone shouted to her. She went to the door. She was just getting to the door when a ball of flames hit the ceiling and she was caught in the flames… She fell on her back. Her arms and legs were in the air and she remained in that position. After that there were flames all around her and that was the last time I saw her.”
The then 19-year-old Donal Clinch got out through exit 5, which, according to him, initially “could not be opened”. Just as he got there, the lights went out, he remembered.
From outside, he heard the screams of the people inside, but couldn’t see them because of the “thick, black smoke.” He got down on his hands and knees, and while someone held his feet, he reached in and, after “feeling around,” pulled out “two or three” people.
One of the two friends he was with that evening was John Colgan, then 23, from Swords, who died. Mr Colgan had been driving that night and went back to their table to get his jacket when they saw the fire as his car keys were in his jacket.
He later met his other friend Kenneth Moffat at the Mater Hospital, but “poor John, I never heard that,” he said.
John’s sister Susan Behan was present in the public gallery Thursday.
The investigation will continue on Friday.