An inquest has been told that three British teens died in a Thailand coach crash during their gap year after the driver attempted a U-turn across a busy carriageway. The 19-year-olds – Bruno Melling-Firth, Conrad Quashie and Max Boomgaarden-Cook – saved their money for months to go on a “trip of a lifetime” around south-east Asia, along with a fourth friend, 20-year-old Jack Beagley. They were planning to attend a university after finishing their A-levels at the Charter School in Dulwich.
However, the three died instantly after their bus collided with an another bus in the Kamphaeng Phet Province’s Khlong Khlung in June 2011. Jack Beagley survived the coach accident, escaping with just minor injuries. The four friends were travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai at the time of the crash, which happened only five days into their nine-week holiday. They had set off by overnight bus for the north and planned to trek in the hills to visit tribal villages. They had planned to visit Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos as well.
The Hino tourist bus that cost them between £5 and £10 stopped for a break at a fuel station early on June 28, five hours into their journey. Shortly after that, the coach driver, Chan Noisri, pulled across the carriageway to continue the journey. However, while pulling out in the wrong direction, he tried to make a U-turn on the six-lane motorway. Due to this, the rear end of the coach was still sitting in the fast lane, and another bus crashed into it. The bus driver has since been convicted of five serious offences by a Thai court – including driving causing death – and has been sentenced to jail for two years.
The accident has resurfaced due to an inquest into what happened. Coroner Dr Andrew Harris and the families of the teens killed have urged the Foreign Office this week to issue more warnings about how dangerous bus travel is Thailand. This followed the discovery that the seats in the coach the students were travelling in weren’t fixed down, while there weren’t any seat belts.
Earlier, the inquest had heard that the students hadn’t done a lot of research into bus travel in Thailand, and their parents said they didn’t know anything about how dangerous coach travel was. The parents of all three teens collected information about the large number of road traffic accidents in the country and feel that, while there are warnings about motorcycles, the Foreign Office should also disclose the dangers of buses and coaches on its website.
Gillian Melling, the mother of Bruno Melling-Firth, says that she let the teens make their own preparations and wrongly assumed that buses would be regulated. She says figures suggest about 12,000 people are killed in accidents every year in Thailand, compared to the 3,000 who die in Britain. She wants the Foreign Office to take responsibility for British nationals, she added. Polly Cook, the mother of Max Boomgaarden-Cook, says they want the Foreign Office to update its website to the level that the US does, warning that it’s very dangerous to travel by road. She hopes this will make them warn travellers about travelling on Thailand roads, she added.
Jack Beagley told the inquest that they still would have gone on the trip even if they had known of the risk. He remembers thinking that the vehicle with its lights on and approaching them was moving very fast. All of a sudden, it crashed into them, and it happened so fast that they didn’t have time to brace themselves or move from their seats. He doesn’t know how, but he must have managed to hold on. Adrenalin must have kicked in, and nothing seemed real. He went to turn to his friends, and realised they weren’t moving. He immediately understood that the crash killed them, he added.
Coroner Dr Harris says he will write to the Foreign Office to suggest the same extensive warnings are published about bus travel as those that are posted about motorcycle travel in Thailand. He will also consider if he can write to Thai authorities about the issue. This has been a tragic and harrowing inquest, which is never easy to hear when it’s about the deaths of young people. It seems sensible and reasonable to him to ask the Foreign Office if they have any evidence of unregulated coach travel that would constitute a warning similar to that about motorcycles, he added.
Author's Google+ page