The man left fighting for his life after a car bomb exploded in Marsaxlokk on Sunday afternoon was probably ejected from the vehicle by the blast and remained conscious throughout the ordeal, his sister said yesterday.

Mireille Degabriele said her brother Darren Degabriele, 35, and his partner Stephanie Tonna, 28, had left Għaxaq 10 minutes earlier after dropping in on the village feast.

“She heard a loud noise and got out of the car – he was already on the ground. He was calling out and shouting in pain and she went to help him,” Ms Degabriele said.

“The car kept on rolling, hit a wall and caught fire.”

Ms Tonna, a qualified nurse, gave first aid to Mr Degabriele, who is still in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit suffering from burns to around 55 per cent of his body.

Ms Degabriele said doctors yesterday afternoon operated on his knee, which was probably shattered. Ms Tonna herself was lucky enough to get away with slight injuries and was treated for smoke inhalation but she was traumatised by the incident.

“She keeps getting that image of my brother on the ground in pain,” Ms Degabriele said.

The explosion occurred at 4pm in Żejtun Road and 10 minutes earlier the couple were with the Degabriele family in Għaxaq’s main square where the feast was being celebrated.

“He was going back to his restaurant but stopped by quickly to say hello – he didn’t look worried or nervous but relaxed,” she said.

Ms Degabriele was not aware her brother had been injured by a bomb, which the police believe had been planted on the chassis of his Mitsubishi Pajero on the driver’s side. Investigators think it was a home-made device that was detonated remotely.

“At first I thought he had crashed and I only learnt that it was a bomb when I got to hospital,” she said. Ms Degabriele described her brother as a hardworking man, a perfectionist with a short fuse but who quickly calmed down.

The owner of Gente di Mare restaurant in Marsaxlokk, Mr Degabriele, who lives in Birżebbuġa, put his all into his business and was a workaholic, she said. “He has a good heart and is a family man.”

She expressed anger at “hurtful lies” that were being told about her brother.

“People are saying that we are linked to the family of Paul Degabriele, is-Suldat [who was shot outside a bar in Marsa], but we don’t have anything to do with them,” she said.

She also denied reports that her brother was “known to the police”. He had recently filed a police report that a man was constantly calling him but she did not know about what. “He isn’t a criminal – he would never hurt anyone.”

Ms Degabriele also lashed out at claims he was involved in some sort of contraband and pointed out that he was the owner of a registered company.

In fact, he is shareholder and director of Degabriele Fuels Limited.

“I don’t know why this happened to him – it’s probably because of jealousy,” she said.

She also pointed out that, on Saturday night, her brother had not parked his car in front of his house or the restaurant, both of which are covered by closed circuit cameras.

Ms Tonna posted another public message on Facebook yesterday after making an appeal for his recovery on Monday. On Mr Degabriele’s own account she wrote: “Dar… I used to find 24 hours are not enough for a day, but now an hour passes like a day...Dar your Tonnina is waiting...Keep strong. I love you xxxxx.”

The police have been questioning relatives and friends to establish the whereabouts of the couple before the incident.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.