A young rugby star has died alongside his brother and their father in a Co Down farming tragedy which also injured their sister.

22-year-old Nevin Spence, who rose to prominence playing for Ulster Rugby and was a rising star in Ireland's international rugby scene, died after falling into a slurry tank.

Emergency crews went to the family farm in Drumlough Road outside Hillsborough, Co Down, shortly after 6pm yesterday following reports that four people had fallen into the slurry pit.

Following a lengthy rescue operation it was confirmed that three men had died and a woman was taken to hospital for treatment for the inhalation of fumes.

Rugby players and fans paid tribute to the young player on social media as news emerged of his involvement in the tragedy. 

A police officer said: "The health and safety executive have been notified and will carry out an investigation in due course."

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said it responded to a 999 call at approximately 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 was also in attendance and pulled four people from the slurry 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.

Ulster Rugby also gave its sympathies to the victims' family.

Chief Executive Shane Logan said: "Nevin was a wonderful player but also a wonderful person. He was well liked by everyone who knew him."

Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots described the accident as a terrible tragedy.

Mr Poots, who lives in the area, said the family involved were highly respected and known as good neighbours.