CLIMBER Ian McKeever's fiancee was only feet away when tragedy struck
HIS very close friend Eugene Grey told the Herald today that McKeever was "one of the most amazing characters". Mr Grey continued: "He was an incredible person - he never thought of himself, always of someone else. He knew he could always make a difference.
"This is the sadness, that at 42 he had so much to give mankind. He was such an inspirational character."
Mr McKeever was living with fiancee Anna O'Loughlin in Sandyford. He worked as a life coach and was studying PR. They were posting regular updates of the group's progress on Facebook during the trip.
Last night, a short statement was placed online announcing the news of the tragedy.
"It is with deep regret, that we, Ian's family, fiancee Anna and friends, advise of his sudden death on Kilimanjaro, doing what he loved best."
Ian was leading the group to the summit of the mountain - considered one of the easier climbs for experienced climbers - when they encountered a storm.
The Herald understands that several other members of the group, including his fiancee Anna, were injured by the aftershock. Ian's final Facebook posting, a day before his death, read: "Torrential rain all day. Spirits remain good even if drying clothes is proving impossible. We pray for dryer weather tomorrow -- the big day."
The couple travelled to Africa before the New Year and were due to return on January 10. His death has shocked those who knew him.
"This is awfully tragic news," said Breffny Morgan, who had just heard of his friend's death. "Ian was a great man. He was always full of enthusiasm. He was always keeping people pepped up," he added.
He took part in a world record attempt with Ian to row across the Atlantic in 30 days. They were on course to beat the record of 33 days but were foiled when their vessel was damaged.
"Only for that we would have made it across," Mr Morgan said.
Eugene Grey, who was his best man at his first wedding, told the Herald that he "had a great sense of creativity and saw things that others wouldn't have seen."
Mr Grey, who also runs a business school, said that Ian knew of the dangers and often encountered life threatening situations.
"People wouldn't realise it, he used to lecture at the business school and they wouldn't realise that he was almost blinded. Only this year he had his eye operation, but he never spoke about any of that."
"We all know that he lost his glasses on Everest but on a trip they ran into tribal warfare and had to be airlifted. Around 30 or 40 locals died in that particular incident. That is the nature of the beast. But he was always very cautious."
Well-known Irish explorer Pat Falvey said Ian was a man who "inspired" others.
"I am absolutely shocked to hear about the death of my friend Ian. It was a freak accident and a complete fluke. I have lost two friends in lightning strikes, including one on the Himalayas -- but they are very rare on Kilimanjaro. I'd like to pay my condolences to his family."
Ian was a native of Lough Dan in Co Wicklow and had graduated from UCD with a social sciences degree.