Vietnamese tour guide says three dead backpackers 'ignored' his warnings
Izzy Squire, 19, Beth Anderson, 24, and Christian Sloan, 25, were killed after being dragged into a whirlpool and swept to their deaths
Published 28/02/2016 | 10:06
A Vietnamese tour guide says three young British holidaymakers were swept to their deaths at a scenic waterfall after jumping into a fast-flowing stretch of water.
Dang Van Sy said that despite his desperate warnings, the three had jumped in near a whirlpool at the popular adventure tourism destination in their life-vests.
Talented showjumper Izzy Squire, 19, her half-sister Beth Anderson, 24, and friend Christian Sloan, 25, were killed at the Datanla waterfalls in Vietam on Friday.
Mr Sy, 26, says Mr Sloan slipped into the whirlpool and was carried away by the force of the water and the two women were also swept into the waterfall before he could reach them.
The youngsters had just completed one of the most popular adventure tourism activities at the Datanla falls near Dalat – sliding down the water flows in a life-jacket and crash-helmet.
But the guide said that the “male tourist” then walked towards a whirlpool known locally as danger spot, with the women just behind him.
“I know that place is dangerous so I shouted to ask them to stay away from that,” he said, according to the English-language website of Tuoi Tre, one of Vietnam’s largest newspapers.
“But they ignored me, jumping down to the stream, still with their life vests.
“Then the man walked back to the women behind him, but he slipped into the whirlpool and was immediately swept away, down to the waterfall.”
Mr Sy said that he jumped in to the stream and shouted to the women to stand up and try to withstand the water flow.
“But a moment later, the women too were swept away,” he said. “I did not dare to jump to save them as I would also be killed in the same manner.”
The tragedy has highlighted concerns about safety standards at popular adventure tourism destinations in the region.
There were conflicting reports from Vietnamese media organisations about whether the Britons visited the falls with an unlicensed tour guide.
There were also initial reports that the accident occurred during a zip-lining trip, but later accounts seemed to discount that version.
According to Mr Sy’s account, they were wearing safety gear and had completed the guided part of the trip down the falls.
Thanh Nien News said that it was “very difficult, if not impossible” to confirm his account that he asked the tourists not to climb further down the falls.
According to the newspaper, provincial officials said the Britons had not been using proper safety equipment.
Hoang Ngoc Huy, a tourism official at the province’s tourism and sports department, told news website Zing that the foreigners did not buy entry tickets and thus were not provided with necessary equipment.
When rescuers recovered their bodies on Friday afternoon, all three were reportedly wearing safety jackets, but no ropes or climbing gears were found.
Mr Sy said that he that when reached the lower part of the waterfall, he saw the body of the male tourist in the water. Around 15 minutes later, he found the body of the first female tourist. The last victim was only found hours after the tragedy.
Tuoi Tre reported that the rugged terrain where they were swept away hindered search and rescue efforts.
Le Viet Luc, director of Dalat Tourist Co that manages the Datanla waterfall, said the dead tourists did not buy the official ticket for “canyoning” activities at the site.
“As per our regulation, tourists have to buy tickets to be given the proper safety equipment for canyoning activities,” he said.
“They should also sign a written guarantee in regard of their health conditions, but those three tourists did not buy the ticket and had arrived at the waterfall via the forest, as led by a tour guide of Dam Me Da Lat Co.”
An adventure tour operator in Dalat told the newspaper that some local travel firms take their customers to the waterfalls without buying tickets from Dalat Tourist Co.
The regular price for such an adventure package is up to $30 a person, but some tour organisers are offering much lower prices, only $10, to compete.
The three tourists were on a package organised by Dam Me Da Lat Co. Mr Sy said the tourists left their hotel with him at 9am on Friday and visited other local beauty spots before arriving at the Datanla falls at 11.30am
“I told my tourists of some activities such as water sliding, swimming and free jumping there,” he said.
“I asked them to wear life jackets and crash helmets, and kept all of their personal belongings in my waterproof bag,” the tour guide said.
The women, who were from the Ecclesall area of Sheffield, were seven weeks into a backpacking tour of Asia when tragedy struck.
In a statement released via South Yorkshire Police, their family said: "Two bright lights have gone out.
"They shone brightly for 24 and 19 years for everyone who loved and adored them and everyone who came into contact with them.
"Sisters, Beth and Izzy were living a life of adventure and did so, right to the end."
Izzy was a successful amateur events rider who featured in an article in Horse and Hound, while Christian had previously worked for the Royal Navy.
Christian's family described their "very sad loss" in a statement, adding that "he was a very popular young man, formerly in the Royal Navy, who had many, many friends not just locally but around the world. He lived for life.”
Family friend Alan McGlashan, 55, told how his son James was with the group travelling but had pulled out of the trip with him but pulled out on the morning of the excursion as he had an upset stomach.
Speaking at the home of Christian's parents Eugene, 65, and Lesley, 62, in Deal, Kent, he said: "My son said there was a harness failure when they were on the waterfalls and I'm not sure if they were zip wiring or climbing or anything, at this moment in time that's all I know. I can't speculate if they were all linked together, all I know is they fell and drowned. I can't even believe what his parents are going through at the moment.
"They're devastated. They have gone on holiday, travelling while they're young, they haven't taken any risks, they were both sensible."
Christian worked at Dover Harbour but gave up job to go travelling with James on January 4.
Mr McGlashan added: "He's just 24 years old, he's gone on the trip of his life with my son, every photo we've had of them they've been smiling and having a great time, you shouldn't have to bury your children.
"He was a great lad, full of life, at the moment he's got a huge great big bushy beard like my son has because they've been backpacking for so long, he's posted loads of pictures on Facebook."
James posted a message on his Facebook page saying: “Thank you for all the messages flooding in, have just stopped in the ambulances for a toilet break so only have wifi for 10 minutes but will try and get back to everyone once I get to Ho Chi Minh City. Thank you for all your support. Devastated RIP Sloan”
Christian, who has an older brother and sister, had written to his friends on Facebook before setting off: "My last ever shift and night shift at work tonight, been a decent 3 n half years met some legends along the way cheers guys on to my next journey travelling Asia from the beginning of January."
Izzy's father, David, is a founder media agency of DESQ Ltd and had previously been a consultant to the BBC.
Izzy, Beth and Christian were found amid rocks and pools of water near the falls outside of Dalat, a mountainous city that draws tourists with its crystal lakes and scenic landscape.
Dozens of emergency workers climbed down a steep rocky slope near the waterfall to retrieve the bodies.
Dalat city's deputy police chief Bui Duc Ro said: "We are working on the reasons for their deaths."
The British Embassy in Hanoi confirmed the deaths of three British nationals near Dalat and said it was providing support to their families.
In 2013 British scientist Jamie Taggart went missing in Vietnam's Sa Pa jungle and was never found despite search efforts by local authorities.
The Foreign Office said: "Our sympathies are with their families and friends at this difficult time. We are in close contact with local authorities in Vietnam on their behalf."