John McIlwaine, a forensic archaeologist who helped bring closure to the distraught families of the Disappeared, died suddenly this week aged 49.
Tributes have been paid to the archaeologist with the University of Bradford who grew up in Portadown, Co. Armagh.
McIlwaine led a team of excavators searching for the bodies of people who were kidnapped, killed and secretly buried by the IRA during the 1970s and 80s. He was in charge of the team that recovered the remains of Danny McIlhone in 2008 and Charlie Armstrong in 2010.
Charlie Armstrong’s daughter led the tributes, saying: “I remember him as an awfully nice man who was so good to our family. He worked tirelessly in the most dreadful conditions to find my father. May he rest in peace.”
People have also taken to Twitter to share their thoughts on the academic.
Sarah Ashbridge wrote: “The loss of John McIlwaine is one that will not hit only the field hard but everyone who knew him….”
While, Jo Buckberry said: “Still trying to come to terms with the loss of John McIlwaine. I don’t have the words…”
Seventeen people were abducted and murdered by republicans between 1972 and 2003.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victim’s Remains was established in 1998 and so far the bodies of 10 people have been recovered.
The University of Bradford released a statement to announce the news to students past and present.
“The School of Archaeological Sciences is deeply shocked and saddened to announce the death of John McIlwaine,” it read.
“This is a very sad time for staff and students at the University of Bradford, both present and past. Our thoughts are, of course, with his family. We will all miss John McIlwaine.”