Crash, sandpit accident claim two Irish lives in Australia
THE heartbroken families of two young Irishmen who had bright futures in Australia face the grim task of repatriating their bodies after they were killed in separate accidents at the weekend.
Leigh O'Neill, from Spynans, Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, and Gary Mealiff, from Newbliss, Co Monaghan, were both aged 25 and working in quarries about 800km apart in Queensland, Australia, when they lost their lives.
Mr O'Neill was buried in sand when he fell into a sandpit at a quarry in Talgai, near the city of Toowoomba around noon local time on Saturday. Australia's Department of Workplace, Health and Safety is investigating the accident.
"He was smothered to death by sand," his uncle and godfather Kevin Richards told the Irish Independent last night.
The young man's body has been taken to the local hospital for a post-mortem exam, but it's believed he died of asphixiation. Mr O'Neill moved to Australia just under a year ago and was due to return home for a visit in August.
But he was doing well there and was looking forward to returning for another year after his company agreed to sponsor him for another work visa.
He leaves behind his mother Trudy O'Neill and his brother Wayne (21) who are now making arrangements to bring his body home.
Local parish priest Fr Eamon McCarthy said there was a large turnout of Mr O'Neill's friends at Mass on Sunday in which prayers were said on his behalf. "He was superbly well liked by everybody in the community," he said.
Meanwhile, the family of Gary Mealiff is also in the process of bringing his body home after he was killed while taking a friend's new motorcycle out for a drive around 3:30pm local time on Sunday.
Mr Mealiff was a quantity surveyor who was working at a quarry in Gladstone, Queensland.
And like Mr O'Neill, he had carved out a life for himself in Australia after moving there about a year ago. He was looking forward to returning Down Under on a second work visa.
A friend of the family said Mr Mealiff was a motoring enthusiast who loved sports.
He went for a spin on the motorbike, crashed down an embankment and died of his injuries later in hospital.
"His mother (Angela) is heartbroken," the friend said. "He was his mother's rock."
"He was a very witty, good, fun-loving lad," she said. "Everyone is devastated."