Ottawa father killed by tree remembered for his generosity

The Ottawa man killed when a tree fell on his tent in Gatineau Park Monday morning was a kind and loving father who was taking his children on their first camping trip when he died.

Tree that fell on Phong Tran's tent as he slept 'looked healthy,' NCC says

Phong Tran, 39, was killed when a tree fell on the tent he was sharing with his daughter and another family at Lac Philippe campground in Gatineau Park early Monday morning. (Supplied)

The Ottawa man killed when a tree fell on his tent in Gatineau Park Monday morning was a kind and loving father who was taking his children on their first camping trip when he died, a family friend said.

Police said Phong Tran, 39, died instantly when gusting winds toppled the tree at Lac Philippe campground around 3:45 a.m.

Tran, an IT professional with the Canada Revenue Agency, had gone camping for the night with his wife and two children, along with another couple and their young daughter.

The two couples camped together before having children, and wanted to share their love of the outdoors with their kids, said Nhung Nguyen, who was slightly injured when the tree fell.

Forecast looked good

The two families enjoyed a picnic at Lac Philippe Sunday before checking the weather to see if it would be OK to stay overnight. Seeing clear skies with some cloud in the forecast, Tran and his five-year-old daughter decided to stay the night with their friends, while his wife Hanh decided to return to their Nepean home with their five-month-old son.

When we went to bed it was a beautiful night.- Nhung Nguyen

"When we went to bed it was a beautiful night," Nguyen said.

In the middle of the night Nguyen woke to the sound of wind and rain. She was reaching to close her tent window when she heard a loud boom.

"It was completely unexpected," Nguyen said. "It was a moment of severe intensity that took down this tree that took down the tent, that killed my friend."

The tree grazed Nguyen's arm as it fell. She began frantically calling for her husband, who was asleep in another section of the modular tent with their four-year-old daughter, Tran and Tran's daughter.

Nguyen's husband yelled back that Tran was hurt and wouldn't wake up.

"He said, 'Call 911! Call 911!" Nguyen said.

"I ripped open my tent and went out and realized the two girls were scared, so I took them to the neighbour's place with my husband."

Badly injured

Another camper tried to help lift the tree off the tent, but it was too heavy. The camper, who is a volunteer firefighter, realized Tran had been critically injured.

"We're just in disbelief," Nguyen said.

Nguyen said her friend's world revolved around his family.

"He's such a generous, kind person," Nguyen said. "I don't understand why God would take someone who is so kind away from us. He's a very religious person, so is his family. They believe that this is God's will. There was not anything that could have been done to prevent it, but it doesn't take that feeling of guilt away from us.

"We just feel profoundly guilty that he's not here with us and he's not going to see his daughter and son grow up. We know that he loves them a lot," Nguyen said.

"We are very lucky we got to spend his last moments together, and he was with his family."

A 'tragic and isolated incident'

Nguyen said Tran's wife is still in shock, but wanted the public to know what a caring man he was. 

Tran would chauffeur nieces and nephews to after-school activities and cook meals for them, Nguyen said.

The tree looked healthy before this incident.- NCC

"It's just incredible the extent of his generosity with his family," she said.

In a statement Tuesday, the National Capital Commission called it a "tragic and isolated incident," and offered its deepest condolences to Tran's family.

"It's a tragic incident that affects us deeply," spokesperson Dominique Huras wrote. 

"The weather was a factor. According to the investigation, there was a storm cell that led to a strong gust of wind that caused a tree to fall. The tree looked healthy before this incident."

NCC inspected trees

The NCC keeps a careful eye on the health of trees near its campsites, Huras wrote.

"The health of the trees in the camping areas is monitored regularly throughout the season and additional inspections are done following events when new hazards are likely to occur. Trees and branches that show signs of disease or decay or otherwise pose a risk are removed."

According to the NCC, conservation officers also inspected the campground following Tran's death to make sure there were no other hazards.

"The NCC takes every reasonable measure to minimize the risk of natural hazards in the campground. Unfortunately, there is always some risk associated with activities in nature."

Nguyen said she doesn't believe Tran would want what happened to him discourage other from experiencing nature.

Quebec's coroner is now investigating Tran's death.