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Man who died in surfing accident near Tofino identified as UVic student

A 27-year-old University of Victoria PhD student from India has died in a surfing accident near Tofino, despite the efforts of bystanders who fought to save his life. The victim was identified by friends as Nijin John. GO FUND ME

A 27-year-old University of Victoria PhD student from India has died in a surfing accident near Tofino, despite the efforts of bystanders who fought to save his life. The victim was identified by friends as Nijin John.

Vincent Mallaley, 47, was walking on Long Beach on Saturday about 3:30 p.m. when he noticed a man in distress in the water, surrounded by other surfers. Mallaley walked toward the water’s edge and noticed that a Pacific Rim National Park employee was in the water trying to help the man.

Mallaley, who has his level-three first-aid certification, ran into the knee-deep water and attempted to revive John.

As waves started coming in, Mallaley and the employee lifted John onto a surfboard and carried him to the beach, where they continued CPR.

A park warden arrived with an automated external defibrillator, but the machine didn’t pick up any vital signs.

“We knew at that point he was in real trouble,” Mallaley said.

John had a large gash under his left eye near his cheekbone. Mallaley was later told that John had suffered blunt force trauma to his face that caused a crushed cheekbone and nose.

“I don’t want to speculate on how he did it, but the rip current that’s there is very strong,” he said.

“He either got pulled under and hit his head on the surfboard or rocks.”

By this point, someone had called 911 and paramedics and RCMP were en route.

Mallaley and park employees lifted the surfboard carrying John into the warden’s truck, which drove out to meet the ground ambulance.

Mallaley later learned that John did not survive.

“It’s such a tragedy to happen to anybody, but for a young 27-year-old university student trying to make something of his life, it’s just heart-wrenching,” he said.

Mallaley provided a statement to Tofino RCMP and completed a report for Pacific Rim National Park that will be shared with the B.C. Coroners Service.

Mallaley, who lives in Victoria, has been in touch with John’s family in India, after several cousins contacted him on Facebook.

He said he has provided as much information as possible to John’s family.

“I can’t even start to imagine what that poor family is going through,” Mallaley said. “To not be here, to not be able to touch him. To know that your son or nephew is gone and you can’t be at his side. My heart goes out to that family.”

John was completing his PhD in chemistry at UVic.

He was a “beloved son, brother and a friend,” said a message on an online fundraising page.

Vivin Mathew, a friend who knew John through the Kerala Cultural Association of British Columbia, created the Go Fund Me page to help cover funeral expenses and to support his parents in India.

“Hope God gives his family the strength and fortitude to bear this tragic loss,” Mathew wrote on the fundraising site, which had raised nearly $20,000 by Monday night.

Roommate Amanda Buck said John told her on Friday that he was going to Tofino with friends.

“He said: ‘What do people do in Tofino?’ I said: ‘Most people go surfing, but I don’t know if you’d like it because it will be cold,’ ” Buck said.

Buck learned Monday morning about John’s death and said she’s in shock.

She described John as kind, generous and thoughtful.

Barbara Hallberg met John in June when he began renting a room in her house.

John said he loved Victoria so much that he hoped to stay for three or four years, Hallberg said. He was excited to see snow when a dusting covered Victoria at Christmas.

“He just wanted to experience Canada and what it had to offer,” Hallberg said.

John was “brilliant” but humble and had “the most wonderful smile,” she said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com