British teenagers died in Thai gap year bus crash 'after driver errors'
THREE British teenagers died in a coach crash during their gap year in Thailand after the driver tried to perform a U-turn across a busy highway, an inquest has heard.
Bruno Melling-Firth, Conrad Quashie and Max Boomgaarden-Cook, all 19, had saved for months for the “trip of a lifetime” through south-east Asia.
But the school friends, all from south London, died instantly after their coach collided with an oncoming bus in Khlong Khlung, in the Kamphaeng Phet Province in June last year.
The trio were travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, in the country’s north, when the coach crashed, just five days into a nine-week trip that also included Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.
A fourth friend, Jack Beagley, 20, survived the crash and escaped the accident with only minor injuries.
On Wednesday night, the coroner, Dr Andrew Harris, and the boys’ families urged the Foreign Office to issue more warnings about the dangers of Thai bus travel after it was disclosed that the bus seats were not fixed down and there were no seat belts.
Southwark Coroners Court had earlier heard that the parents of all three boys had collected information about the huge number of road traffic accidents in Thailand.
They felt that while there were warnings about motorcycles on the Foreign Office website there was not enough about the dangers of buses and coaches.
The inquest had earlier heard that the students had not undertaken a great deal of research into bus travel in the country while their parents said they were oblivious to the dangers of coaches.
The trio, who were planning to go to University after finishing their A-levels at the Charter School, in Dulwich, south London, had set off by overnight bus for the north, planning to go trekking in the hills to visit tribal villages.
The inquest heard that the Hino tourist bus, which cost about 400-500 baht (about £5-£10) to travel on, had stopped for a break at a petrol station five hours into their journey in the early hours of June 28.
A short time later the driver pulled out across the carriageway to continue the journey but he pulled out in the wrong direction and attempted a U-turn on the six-lane highway.
The back end of the "very old" coach was left sitting precariously in the fast lane when another coach crashed into it.
Mr Boomgaarden-Cook, of Brixton, died of a severe head injury, Mr Melling-Firth, of Southwark, died of multiple injuries, and Mr Quashie, also of Southwark, died of a head injury.
In a statement, Mr Beagley told the inquest that even if they had known the dangers they would still have taken the trip.
"I remember thinking the vehicle with lights on coming toward us was coming very fast, we all commented to each other,” he said.
"All of a sudden that coach crashed into our coach, it happened so quick we to move out of our seats or brace ourselves.
"I don't know how but somehow I must have managed to hold on. It was just the adrenalin kicking in, nothing seemed real, I just wanted get out.”
He added: "I went to turn to my friends and realised they weren't moving. I understood immediately they had been killed in the crash."
They had to clamber over the seats and kick the door open to get out. The accident killed a Korean passenger and the driver of the other bus and injured 40 others.
The driver of the bus Chan Noisri has been convicted of five serious offences including negligent driving causing death and jailed for two years by a Thai court. The inquest only heard there had been a "successful prosecution".
Gillian Melling, Bruno's mother, said she had left the boys to their preparations and said she had "presumed wrongly" that coaches would be regulated.
She said figures suggested there were around 12,000 people killed in accidents each year in Thailand, compared to 3,000 in Britain. She said she wanted the Foreign Office to "take responsibility for their British citizens".
Recording narrative verdicts, Dr Harris said he would write to the Foreign Office to suggest it publishes the same extensive warnings about bus travel as it does about motorcycle travel in Thailand.
He will also consider whether he has the power to write to the Thai authorities.
Dr Harris said: "This has been a harrowing and tragic inquest. It's never easy to hear an inquest into the deaths of young people.
"It does seem to me to be a reasonable and sensible solution to make that I could ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that if they have any evidence of unregulated bus travel that they should give the same warning for bus travel as they do for motorcycles."
After the hearing, Max's mother Polly Cook said: "We want them (the Foreign Office) to update their website to include the fact that the roads are hugely dangerous.
"We would like the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to update its website to the level that the US does, indicating that it's extremely dangerous travelling by road.
“I hope that this will make the Foreign Office put warnings out to travellers similar to that of the USA and Canada, about travelling on the roads in Thailand.”
"This was a tragic loss of three young lives, and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of those who died. Our Travel Advice is kept under constant review, and the safety of British nationals is of paramount importance to the FCO."