A family has been devastated by the death of two brothers and their father in a farming tragedy in Northern Ireland, which left their sister injured.

The men died after falling into a slurry tank at a farm outside Hillsborough in Co Down.

Emergency crews went to the scene on Drumlough Road outside the village after the alert was raised. But following a lengthy rescue operation it was confirmed the three men had died and the woman was taken to hospital for treatment for the inhalation of fumes.

Lives have been lost in the past in accidents at other farm slurry pits, but the scale of the latest tragedy had shocked Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said it responded to a 999 call at about 6.15pm following reports that at least three people had fallen into a slurry tank. It said it immediately despatched three Rapid Response Paramedics, four accident and emergency vehicles and an ambulance service doctor to the scene.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service also attended and rescued four people from the pit.

A spokesman said: "Three 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."

The ambulance service said it extended its sympathies to those involved.

A police officer said: "The Health and Safety Executive have been notified and will carry out an investigation in due course."