A young British scientist working in Madagascar was killed in a “freak” accident when an overhanging cliff collapsed on him during a beach party.
Marine biologist Nick Paige, 24, was sitting by a camp fire with friends when the 3m high rocky outcrop fell on to the group.
Nick and his French colleague Stephanie Bollard, 26, are believed to have died instantly from the crush, which happened at 11pm local time, on Saturday.
The site of the deaths is known to be a popular spot for beach parties and camp fires, which Mr Paige had frequently attended in the past.
He had been working with a team of 25 experts from conservation group Blue Ventures to help develop a sustainable marine environment with fishermen in the village of Andavadoaka.
Tragically Nick had been given a promotion and had his contract extended by his employers just weeks before his death.
Nick’s devastated mother Suzanne, 61, said she had been scouring her inbox for emails from her “loving” son when police arrived to inform her of his death.
She said: “They were in an area where they had camp fires and social events. They used it for events all the time.
“There was no predicting that the accident was going to happen. It was a case of Nick being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I had just come off the internet from checking if Nick had emailed me, which I did every night, when the police knocked on the door at about 11.45pm.
“Nick was really popular. He absolutely loved his job. It was what he always wanted to do.
“He was a water baby from the word go. You could not keep him away from the water. Marine conservation is a really difficult area to get in to and Nick worked very hard.
“He loved the people he worked with and was there with and really loved the people in Madagascar.
“He was outgoing, very caring, very loving and was always interested in people. He cared about people and was always there to help out.
“Anyone in trouble he would help and give lifts to anyone who wanted them. If they were down he would be there to talk to them and bring them up.
“Blue Ventures were so pleased with Nick’s work they offered him an extension of his contract in August.
“He started to be more involved in the scientific research as well as looking after the volunteers.”
She added: “I have passed on my condolences to Stephanie’s family and they have passed on their condolences to me.
“It is comforting as we are going through the same thing.
“A French company are organising the repatriation as the paper work is in French. We are hoping Nick’s body will come back to the UK by the end of the week.”
Tragic Nick, from Codicote near Welwyn Garden City, Herts., flew out to Madagascar in February this year and was due to return to the UK in January.
But his employers Blue Ventures were so impressed with his work in August they offered him a promotion and extended his contract to September 2013.
Nick’s work ranged from monitoring the health of coral reefs in the region, to training and teaching volunteers and conservationists from around the world.
His recent work included assessing the precise timing of coral spawning. This was the first time it had been observed in Madagascar.
Following the accident on October 13 the director of Blue Ventures Richard Nimm and a trauma counsellor have gone out to Madagascar to support Nick’s colleagues.
A third colleague received a broken wrist in the incident.
A French company is organising the repatriation of Nick’s body as the Madagascan paper work is mainly in French.
Mr Nimm yesterday (Weds) said Nick was “certainly one of the best staff we have ever employed.”
He said: “We were shocked to hear last Saturday night from our team in Madagascar about what appears to have been a freak accident during a social evening.
“We have contacted the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the French government officials concerned, as well as the relevant Malagasy authorities.
“The families of both individuals have now been informed about the incident, and repatriation is being arranged.
“Naturally, we are offering full support and counselling to our team of staff and volunteers as well as the next of kin of those affected.
“I am flying out to Madagascar to help with this support along with a counsellor who
specialises in bereavement and trauma support.
“Our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of our colleagues who have tragically died.”
Nick had previously spent time working as a marine biologist on an island near Fiji and spent eight months researching stingray on a remote atoll off the coast of Belize while studying for his Master’s degree from Bangor University, Wales.
In the months before Nick took up his offer to work in Madagascar, Nick worked in the estates department at Monk’s Walk School in Welwyn Garden City, Herts., where he had been a pupil.
Deputy head Noel Kelly said: “It’s sort of a cliche because whenever someone passes on they are the world’s best, in this case he was – he was one of life’s good guys.
“He always had a smile on his face, always pleasant to everyone and you could not help liking him.
“It is such a tragic waste.
“I knew him as a student initially and he became a colleague and a friend.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office confirmed it is providing consular assistance to Mr Paige’s family.
Tragic Nick’s family plan to hold a service at Harwood Park Crematorium, Knebworth, Herts., and hundreds of mourners are expected at a wake in The Goat, Codicote, Herts., after his body returns to the UK.