Parents of S’porean who died after Mt Kilimanjaro climb mourn loss of ‘independent, soft-spoken’ son
Speaking out for the first time since their son died after collapsing on Mount Kilimanjaro, the parents of Mr Darrel Phee are still coming to terms with his death.
Mr Phee, 28, was an independent and soft-spoken man with many interests from boating to cocktail mixing, said his mother Madeline Phui at his wake at the Singapore Casket on Thursday.
The UBS bank executive died on Aug 9 from acute altitude sickness, which set in before the expedition group he was with attempted to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain.
Madam Phui, 56, said Mr Phee last contacted her on Aug 4 to tell her he was about to scale the mountain in Tanzania and would not have mobile reception.
“Be careful,” she replied.
Paying tribute to her son, the housewife said Mr Phee always looked forward to different things. A climbing trip to Switzerland in December was the next item on his bucket list.
He was the oldest of three children.
His sister Valerie Phee, a 26-year-old human-resources executive, said he “lived life to the fullest”, and enjoyed seeking new adventures and had been looking forward to seeing safari animals on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Madam Phui and her husband Jason Phee, 57, received news of their son’s death only on Aug 10, moments before they boarded a flight to Qatar, from where they would fly to Tanzania.
The older Mr Phee, an aerospace engineer, said: “Can you imagine what kind of impact it (had on me)? I was hoping he was still alive.”
When the couple touched down in Tanzania, they said they could not get the full details about what caused their son’s death.
Upon reaching the mortuary, Mr Jason Phee said he “couldn’t take it” and wanted to bring his son back as soon as possible because he “did not want him to stay there alone in a foreign land”.
But the family had to wait for documents to be processed before Mr Phee’s body could be flown home.
The Straits Times reported on Tuesday that the family was seeking answers on the tragedy.
Expedition group Adventures Unlimited has since provided Mr Phee’s parents and aunt with more details.
But the family said they were still seeking more information on what could have led to his death.
Before Mr Phee fell unconscious, there was a change to the expedition’s itinerary. This resulted in the group trekking to a higher-altitude camp, bypassing one on a lower altitude per the original itinerary.
Based on Adventures Unlimited’s original itinerary seen by ST, climbers were recommended to sleep at similar altitudes for three nights to aid acclimatisation.
The group slept overnight at Shira Camp (3,845m) on Aug 5 and Barranco Camp (3,960m) on Aug 6. But instead of putting up at Karanga Camp (3,963m) as originally planned on Aug 7, they ended up at Barafu Camp (4,640m).
In messages to the family, Adventures Unlimited said the group had lunch and rested at Karanga Camp on Aug 7 before proceeding to Barafu Camp for the night. This decision was made “based on the professional experiences and knowledge of the local operator”.
It was not the first time its local operator, which was not named, used this itinerary. The operator was also of the view the itinerary change did not lead to Mr Phee’s death, said the group.
On the morning of the summit attempt on Aug 8, Mr Phee’s oxygen levels plunged when he was at an altitude of 5,400m. The guides told him to turn back, Adventures Unlimited said.
He was later found unconscious and taken to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre.
The expedition group said it contacted rescue service Kilimedair, but the helicopter was unable to fly owing to a fog.
It said Mr Phee died from “asphyxia/Hape”.
Asphyxia occurs when the body is deprived of oxygen, while Hape - or high-altitude pulmonary edema - happens when excess fluid is produced in the body’s lungs. Both conditions can be fatal.
Adventures Unlimited did not answer ST’s queries on Thursday.
Mr Phee was a securities and foreign exchange trade processing specialist at UBS.
A UBS spokesman told ST the bank was deeply saddened by his death.
“Darrel was well-liked by his colleagues and loved by his family and friends... We are in close contact with his family and are doing everything possible to help them.”