Four Ballinamore Post Primary students and their teacher have been reported safe after their group, which was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for charity, was struck by lightening.
Well known world record holder and professional climber, Ian McKeever, died in the lightening strike and his fiancee was injured after serious weather conditions impacted on a group of 23 climbers, including the Co Leitrim students, their teacher and her friend.
The four students participating in the climb have been named as Méabh Gleeson, Siobhán McTague, Donnchadh Dolan and Conor Moran. They had been climbing with their teacher Aoife Ní Mháille, a native of Carrigallen and her friend. All are reported to be safe following the tragedy but have been deeply traumatised and, at the time of this post, they were waiting instructions before descending the mountain.
The group had been fund-raising for Crumlin Children’s Hospital and The North West Hospice as part of the build up to the climb and had spent nine months trekking all over Ireland in preparation for their ascent on Kilimanjaro on New Year’s Eve.
They flew out for Tanzania just a few days ago and on Tuesday, a Facebook update via mobile phone from Ian McKeever noted “Shira 2, 4,000m. Torrential rain all day. Spirits remain good even if drying clothes is proving impossible! We pray for dryer weather tomorrow - the big day. It’s the Lava Tower.”
42-year-old Mr McKeever, who hails from Lough Dan, Wicklow, was a leading member of the Kilimanjaro Achievers Team, a group of veteran climbers which led groups to the top of the mountain.
On his Facebook page last night (Wednesday), a statement said: “It is with deep regret that we, Ian’s family, fiancee Anna and friends, advise of his sudden death on Kilimanjaro today, doing what he loved best.”
Speaking to the Leitrim Observer following the tragedy, Ballinamore Post Primary Schools Principal, Padraig Leydon said that he had spoken to teacher, Aoife Ní Mháille, and she had assured him all of the students were safe.
“I was talking with Aoife just an hour ago and she has confirmed that the students, herself and her friend are all safe and well although they have been left severely traumatised by this tragedy,” he acknowledged.
“I believe that these weather conditions were not typical of the weather usually seen by climbers on Kilimanjaro and the mountain itself and the route taken by the climbers is considered to be very safe.
“The parents of all those involved have been contacted. They are, of course, very relieved, as we all are, that their children are safe, but I am sure they will not sleep soundly until their children are back here at home.
“The students and their teacher have put in a lot of work in the lead up to this. They have been planning this for nearly two year and have raised €7,000 for their charities. Everyone was so excited heading off to Tanzania just a few days ago and this has been an awful tragedy and our thoughts and sympathies go out to Mr McKeever’s family at this time.”
The students and their teacher were part of a group of 23 Irish people climbing the mountain, including Mr McKeever and his fiancee, Anna.
Emergency services are now working to bring Mr McKeever’s remains and his injured fiancee down the mountain and they will then be working on leading the Irish party to the base camp.
Local politicians Cllr Gordon Hughes and Cllr Martin Kenny expressed their shock at the tragedy and both welcomed the news that the Ballinamore Post Primary Students were safe.