Bride-to-be lost fiancé and her two young sons

When Sharon Howard telephoned her parents from the luxury resort of Khao Lak on Thailand's western coast on Christmas Day it was to break some exciting news.

With undisguised joy she told them that David Page, her long-time boyfriend and a devoted father-figure to her two beloved young sons, had proposed earlier that day and she had accepted. To share with her parents the enjoyment of the last relaxing days of the month-long holiday, she e-mailed home for the family album a picture of the four of them with tanned faces and broad smiles.

But just hours later hopes of a happy future were in ruins as a tsunami smashed into their hotel in the province of Phang Nga, sweeping her fiancé and her sons, Taylor, six, and Mason, eight, to their deaths.

Only the body of Taylor has been recovered and, with Mrs Howard recovering from concussion and other injuries in a Bangkok hospital, the details of what happened in the horrifying moments after the tsunami hit remain unclear.

Such was the chaos that Mrs Howard herself has little or no idea how she survived.

Instead, barely 24 hours after word began to spread on the internet and via news agencies that a family of four from Cornwall holidaying in Thailand might have been lost, Mrs Howard's parents released the picture and made a statement, too upset to speak in interviews about their loss.

It spoke volumes of the pride that they felt for the family they saw every day in the idyllic seaside town of St Ives where Mrs Howard, 37, grew up and where in the 1980s she first met Mr Page, a commercial deep-sea diver seven years her senior.

The couple helped to run a restaurant in St Ives and, with the children on school holidays, they rewarded themselves in the low-season with a month-long trip around Thailand from which they were due to return today.

Yesterday her parents,retired St Ives hoteliers,said they would have been "proud" to have as a son-in-law Mr Page, a rescue diver during the Kursk submarine tragedy.

He was originally from Graffham, West Sussex, and had travelled the world with his job before settling in Cornwall.

"We are obviously devastated. We are an extremely close-knit family and saw Sharon and the boys every day," they said.

"We last heard from Sharon, David and the boys on Christmas Day and they sounded so happy. They were having a wonderful holiday and David had proposed to Sharon earlier that day.

"Sharon was the happiest she had ever been with David and was a devoted mother to her boys.

"Taylor and Mason were such beautiful boys, but they were very different in personality.

"Taylor was the more outgoing of the two while Mason was more studious. Both loved swimming and were having golf lessons. They were both very close and always slept in the same room.

"We would have been proud to have had David as a son-in-law. He was exceptionally kind and generous, and adored the children. Our thoughts are with his family."

Feelings between the two families were clearly mutual.

Mr Page's brother, Martin, said: "All of our family were proud to welcome Sharon and her boys as our own.

"Sharon and David had decided to have a future together as a family unit and it is tragic that this has been taken away from them in this way."

Sharon's eldest son, Jack Coop, 17, of Hayle, her sister, Beverley, and her brother-in-law Roland, both from Kent, have flown to Bangkok to be at her bedside.

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