Story transcripts

Death in Paradise

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Steven Burling

It was the most tragic of stories – a young man heads off on a backpacking holiday and never makes it home.

Lee Hudswell’s adventure ended in the tiny Asian country of Laos when he drowned diving off a flying fox.

It wasn’t just a freak accident. Dozens of other foreigners have been killed on that same stretch of river.

It's been six months since Liz Hayes travelled to Laos to find out exactly what happened to Lee.

Now, finally, the authorities there are doing something about this tragic waste of life.

View our original story here.

Full transcript:

STORY – LIZ HAYES: Eight months after the death of her son Lee, Jan Hudswell is still mourning the loss of her only boy.

JAN: I just do not want any family or friends to go through what our family has been through - it is completely avoidable.

LIZ HAYES: Lee was a fit and happy 26-year-old who, like so many young Australians, set off on what was supposed to be the ultimate Southeast Asian adventure.

SCOTT: When we got here, like, we were all so happy, and just full of energy. I think Lee, like, that’s one of the happiest I’ve ever seen him.

LIZ HAYES: Lee, along with childhood friends Ryan Cearns and Scott Donaghy, had come to Vang Vieng for what’s known as tubing - floating along the river on giant tractor tubes, enjoying the endless choice of bars selling alcohol by the bucket, giant waterslides and zip-lines - a high wire ride that often ends with a sickening jolt.

RYAN: It’s just a place where you can just – there’s no rules and you can sort of just enjoy yourself and –

LIZ HAYES: And he was excited about this trip?

RYAN: Yeah, he loved it. He was having the time of his life.

LIZ HAYES: This is the last vision of Lee as he tried his hand at the zip-line. When did you think something was wrong?

RYAN: One of the guys actually came to me, and said Lee hasn’t come up.

LIZ HAYES: This must have been a desperate moment?

SCOTT: Once we were in the water, yeah, we were frantic. That’s when it kicked in – and we knew he actually hadn’t come up.

LIZ HAYES: Minutes passed before Lee was found, some 20m down-river - he was fighting for his life.

RYAN: I don’t think he knew what was happening. He was just fighting, that’s all.

LIZ HAYES: He lost his fight?

RYAN: Yes.

JAN: When that phone rang, I knew. I knew. That is the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing.

LIZ HAYES: Half a world away, on the New South Wales South Coast, Lee’s mother Jan took the call that every parent fears the most.

JAN: Scotty was on the end of the line, and he said “Jan, Jan”. He was just a mess, and I said “What’s wrong, Scott, what’s wrong?” And he said “I don’t know how to tell you this, I don’t know how to tell you” – and I just kept asking what’s wrong. And he said “Lee has passed away”. It’s surreal. It’s an out-of-body experience.

LIZ HAYES: And despite Lee’s death, and more than 20 other backpackers who died here in the previous 12 months, when I visited with Scott and Ryan, the party on the Nam Song River seemed set to continue.

RYAN: I can’t believe it’s still going.

LIZ HAYES: But then Jan decided it should stop.

JAN: A young Irishman died four or five months ago - another drowning, just dreadful. Dreadful.

LIZ HAYES: So, for the past eight months, Jan and her supporters have lobbied the Laotian authorities, and they’ve finally agreed to shut down the party along this notorious stretch of river.

JAN: I am confident that the bars have been closed down, that the flying foxes have stopped, that all the dodgy apparatus, and the swings and the slides and all that, are beginning to be dismantled.

LIZ HAYES: For the mates who were with Lee on that terrible day, it’s a comfort that such a tragedy may be avoided in the future.

RYAN: Everyone was extremely happy to know that they’re actually doing something about it - hopefully Lee hasn’t died in vain.

LIZ HAYES: And although Jan continues to struggle emotionally with the loss of her son, this recent announcement has helped ease her pain.

JAN: I have just been a different person since I heard the news that the bars have shut down and they’re cracking down on the alcohol and the drug-fuelled behaviour. This is the best I have felt since Lee’s passed away.

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