A Northern Ireland man who plunged to his death while climbing a mountain in New Zealand had told his family how lucky he was to have escaped the Asian tsunami, it emerged tonight.
Dr Donal Deery, 29, from Belfast, had been in Thailand two weeks before the Indian Ocean earthquake struck on Boxing Day.
His distraught father Francis revealed he discussed his good fortune in his final phone call home.
“When he spoke to us a week and a half ago, most of the conversation was about how lucky he had been to get away from the tsunami in Thailand.
“I warned him to look after himself. I never ever thought this would happen. It’s my worst nightmare,” he said.
Mr Deery said his son had been planning to return home in three weeks’ time to attend his sister Deirdre’s wedding.
“The wedding is going ahead in five weeks. Deirdre wants to cancel it but we don’t think it would right,” he said.
Dr Deery, an experienced climber, fell 200 metres to his death while he and girlfriend, Helen McClements from Bangor, Co Down were descending from a slope on the South Island’s Southern Alps near the town of Wanaka.
Miss McClements, 25, suffered internal injuries and fractures to her back and is in a stable condition in hospital in Dunedin.
Because of the treacherous weather conditions it could be another three to four days before search and rescue teams recover the body.
Police in Wanaka said Dr Deery died saving his girlfriend who had slipped on soft snow.
Speaking from his home in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast, Mr Deery said he would not be surprised if this is what had happened.
“It is something he would do. He just wouldn’t have thought anything for his own life. His first thought would always be for somebody else.”
The 59-year-old contractor added that he, his wife Monica, 57 and their daughters Loretta, 33, and Deirdre, 32, were devastated by his death.
“It came as an awful shock. We still can’t take it in. Ask anybody about Donal, there couldn’t have been anybody nicer.
“He had such a great future ahead of him. All he ever wanted to do was to be a doctor and care for people,” his father said.
Dr Deeny, who graduated from Queen’s University in 2000, was former president of its mountaineering club. His partner Helen, an English graduate, was also a member.
His friend and fellow mountaineer, Fred Maddalena said Donal had been involved with the club for many years.
“He was a strong dependable rock climber and an enthusiastic mountaineer who was always looking for new challenges. His loss will be deeply felt by all of us who knew him.”
His father said climbing had been a major part of his son’s life.
“It was his absolute passion. I worried about him all the time. It was one thing I never wanted him to do but I couldn’t stop him,” he said.
After he left university, the young doctor worked at a number of hospitals in Northern Ireland, including, Musgrave Park, The Mater and the Royal in Belfast
He also worked at the Causeway in Coleraine and Altnagelvin in Derry and had hoped to specialise in cardiology
He was planning to return to New Zealand after his sister’s wedding to work there for at least a year.
A spokesperson for the Royal Victoria Hospital said: “Colleagues and staff are deeply stunned by his death and our sympathies to out to his family at this tragic time.”
The British Medical Association said they were deeply shocked to learn of Dr Deeny’s death and extended their sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.