Dad tells of tragedy on mountain
THE father of a gifted student who died in an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands said the family "feared the worst" when they heard reports of the accident.
Tom Chesters, 28, from Ottery St Mary, who was studying for a PhD, was killed alongside three others – including his long-term girlfriend Dr Rachel Majumdar – in the tragedy.
Tributes have been paid to the couple who met at university in Leeds.
Speaking exclusively to the Echo, Tom's father John said the family were grateful the pair were together and that one would not have to suffer the pain of losing the other.
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"We have had a lot of contact from people that knew Tom – it has been of some comfort," he said.
"We've not watched any media or read any papers since we saw the afternoon news on the Saturday it happened.
"It said there had been this tragedy in Scotland and we knew Tom was up there.
"We sat there waiting for news – we absolutely feared the worst.
"The only thing we are grateful for is that the two of them, Tom and Rachel, were together and that one won't be left bereaved by the other's death."
Talented Tom was experienced in orienteering, running and had spent time in the Alps as a mountain bike guide.
He was in his final year of a PhD in medical engineering at the University of Hull, with a special focus on researching osteoporosis.
His father John said: "I think he was enjoying it very much.
"He was also lecturing and getting paid. He was looking forward to finishing and it coming to fruition."
Tom's father described his son as a "very good" cook who had worked as a chef during his time in the Alps.
The experienced climber also spent some time at financial data company Reuters in Tiverton.
His father described him as a "very good mathematician".
Tom and 29-year-old Rachel, who is understood to have been from Merseyside, were alongside PhD student Christopher Bell, 24, and 25-year-old junior doctor Una Finnegan when they were caught up in the avalanche near Glencoe.
The four, plus two others who survived the incident, were making their descent on Bidean Nam Bian when the avalanche struck at 2pm on Saturday.
Tom's father said his other son Ben had been invited on the trip but declined to go.
He said the family were "extremely grateful" that he did not join his brother on the fateful expedition.
"I am very pleased to have our other son Ben here helping us with it all – he is a really strong character," John said.
"Tom did invite Ben to go along to Scotland but for whatever reason, Ben decided it wasn't the right thing to do.
"We are extremely grateful he made that decision – one is bad enough, but to lose two is unimaginable."
Of the two survivors, a 24-year-old woman remains in a critical condition in hospital and a sixth member of the group, who has asked to remain anonymous, escaped relatively unharmed.
The climber survived by leaping from the collapsing snow and hammering an ice axe into the ground.
He spoke to Tom's parents on Tuesday evening.
John said the climber had been left "absolutely devastated" by what happened.
"He asked if I wanted him to talk through it all, but I said maybe sometime in the future but not right now – we are not ready for that," said John.
Friend Sam Morris, 35, who worked with Tom in the Alps, said the only consolation was that Tom and Rachel died side-by-side doing something they both loved.
"They were in love since they met in their first year of university," he said.
"They had dreams of doing voluntary work oversees together.
"Some of the comfort we have drawn is that these guys had been together to the end. At least they were doing what they liked doing."
John Dyson, chairman of the Devon Orienteering Club of which Tom was a member, described the accident as a "tremendous tragedy".
He said: "Tom was a likeable person and very capable. It's a tremendous tragedy. He brightened the lives of those people who knew him.
"His parents have been members of the club for 30 years. I also know his brother Ben well. They are a super family and this seems totally unjust.
"I have been up that same mountain – there are real dangers but I'm sure they appreciated that. They weren't inexperienced."