Belfast Telegraph

Boxing Day tsunami: Day of reflection for family of Northern Ireland man lost in disaster

By Ivan Little

The family of Northern Ireland's only victim of the devastating tsunami in south east Asia will today mark the tenth anniversary of the disaster with a poignant series of memorials for the 'special man they will never forget'.

And they'll also remember all the victims of one of the world's worst natural disasters by releasing 10 balloons to mark every year since the horror which stunned the world on Boxing Day 2004.

Thirty-one-year-old Connor Keightley from Cookstown was one of nearly a quarter of a million people who perished as killer waves - some of them 80feet high - from the Indian Ocean decimated huge swathes of coastline in over a dozen countries.

Connor, a talented artist, had been holidaying on idyllic Phi Phi island and had just sent a picture of himself beside a Christmas message in the sand to his family back home in Tyrone.

After hearing news of the tsunami and watching the chilling images of the deadly waves on TV news reports, the Keightley family tried to get in touch with Connor but their calls went unanswered.

His sisters Darina and Michelle, their uncle Damian Coyle and cousin Gavin O'Neill travelled to Thailand in a desperate hunt for Connor.

They searched hospitals and scanned dozens of pictures of injured people and at one point they thought they had found Connor, but the man in the photograph wasn't him.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs assisted the Keightleys in their hunt and laid on a boat to take them to Phi Phi to re-trace Connor's last known movements.

But such was the devastation on the island that the Keightleys realised that Connor had probably been killed along with hundreds of other tourists. Their hunt for a survivor turned into a search for a body.

On the day before the family were due to return home there was confirmation that Connor's remains had been found in a makeshift mortuary in the town of Krabi, where the Phi Phi bodies had been taken.

Garda forensic experts, who had been sent from Dublin, identified Connor from his dental records, a tattoo and a distinctive Storm watch he'd been wearing that day.

His body was later returned for burial in Cookstown after a service in the Church of the Holy Trinity in January 2005.

And it's there that Connor's family will gather today for a memorial Mass, as they have done on the anniversaries of his death over the past decade.

Later they'll lay flowers on his grave and his mother Theresa will light a candle in her window as a memorial to everyone who was affected by the Boxing Day disaster.

In a statement the Keightleys said: "As a family we will be thinking of other families who also lost loved ones and had their lives changed for ever."

This year the Keightleys will also perform another act of remembrance for Connor and the thousands of other victims.

They'll release 10 balloons with "messages of love on them as remembrance of a very special person who is gone but not forgotten."

Killer wave that swept 230,000 to their deaths 

Factfile

When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, 10 years ago today, it was one of the biggest natural disasters in recorded history. A massive underwater earthquake generated a huge wave that hit land first in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Billions of dollars worth of damage was caused and more than 230,000 lives lost in a trail of devastation across Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

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