It happened to me: prepare for worst but come back safe

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 16/07/2014
Timothy Oakes was a keen mountaineer

Timothy Oakes was one of 19 people who died in a plane crash in Nepal in September 2012. He was setting off on a trekking holiday to Everest. Timothy’s wife, Angie Gaunt, shares her experience of the aftermath of his death to help other families find advice and support should the worst also happen to them.

In April this year, an accidental death verdict was recorded at an inquest into the plane crash that killed Tim, along with seven other British travellers. No mechanical problem was found with the plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff at Kathmandu airport.

However, Nepalese Airlines has an appalling safety record. The European Commission have blacklisted Nepalese Airlines and SitaAir; hence an increasing number of tour operators no longer fly in Nepal. The flight report, published last October, had around 17 safety recommendations. Until they are adhered to, the blacklist will remain.

The situation clearly demands attention. Last month, Hugo Swire, a Minister of State for the Foreign Office, visited Nepal. He commented:

“If we are to get Nepalese Airlines off the EU blacklist we do need to see better regulation here. We will work closely with the Nepalese authorities. I discussed these matters with the Tourism Minister – working with the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch, pilot training and other ways we can help improve Nepal’s safety record. When people travel within Nepal, from Nepal or to Nepal, they should be assured the same standards are being applied to their travel as they anywhere else in the world."

Read our original news story about the Kathmandu air crash

Read about the Nepali airlines added to the blacklist

Below, Angie Oakes offers the benefit of her experience following the death of her husband.

It has been nearly two years since my husband Tim and his best friend Steve were killed in Nepal. They went on holiday, a trip of a lifetime, and the day they left was to be the last time I would see them.  It doesn’t happen to you, does it? Unfortunately it did. 

Tim and I lived our lives together in the mountains for thirty years in various parts of the world. At the inquest, Explore Worldwide stated that we should have done more research and preparation of our own into flight safety, and that travellers should not rely soley on tour operators. I think that most of us expect the tour company to do that for us. 

However, if I knew then what I know now, then I would have prepared better in the days before Tim left. We were a well-organised family, but as organised as we were, there is so much to do if a person dies abroad.

I hope you will never need to use the details below. However, it would have been extremely beneficial if I‘d had something like this to help me out at a time when I no longer had the power of rational thought and was suffering an inability to think or process information as grief set in at the loss of my husband.

There are three main tick lists to consider:

Before they go:

I would strongly recommend that before embarking on a trip abroad, copies of the following items are left behind in an envelope/wallet or folder:

  • Passport
  • Travel Insurance policy number - company
  • Itinerary
  • Credit or debit cards will he/she be taking
  • Copy of e-tickets or tickets
  • National Insurance Number
  • Driving licence
  • His/her Will
  • A recent photo
  • Photo of wedding ring/jewellery
  • Look at and photograph all the items that are being taken, e.g. camera, walking poles and other gear

I also strongly recommend that, especially for more extreme holidays, you check the wording on all insurance policies very carefully. Check you have not started a new hobby that may not be indicated on your proposal, and read the definitions of activities so that there is no chance of a policy being invalidated.

You can also read up on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Know Before You Go campaign

Following a death:

Following the death of a loved one there is a massive amount of work to be done, and at a time when you will be feeling emotional and unable to think clearly or make rational decisions. This is what I found out following the tragic death of Tim.

If the person dies as a result of an accident, you will probably have the Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO) attached to you. They will ask you lots of personal questions about your partner and their belongings – hence the need for photos. It can seem invasive. My advice is to trust them, but take your time to think and get it right. If you have to give a recorded statement, ask for a copy of the manuscript from it. It may be useful later.

I have put together a tick list which may offer you some way to focus on the difficult tasks that need to be completed. Starting a folder of paperwork will help you keep organised in the days, weeks and months that follow. It is also a good place to store useful phone numbers. Keep a brief note of all the conversations you have with people, alongside the date and the person’s name. If possible, keep a copy of the letters you send. 

I found different levels of expertise when talking to people. Asking people to stop the ‘automated script’ they were following helped a great deal, so we could talk as one human being to another! Once this barrier had been broken, the next hurdle was the data protection and security issue: proving who you are. Most companies exercised a high level of professionalism. Only a few created greater issues and additional bureaucratic tasks – try to be patient, it certainly helped.

Disaster Action is a charity founded in 1991 by survivors and bereaved people from UK and overseas disasters. Their members live all around the UK and can offer support and guidance.

Who to contact immediately:

In the days immediately following a death abroad you will need to contact a number of people/organisations.  

Download tick list of who to contact immediately

Who else to contact:

The coroner will eventually provide you with a death certificate, or interim death certificate. Once you have this you can deal with other tasks relating to your home and your partner's personal affairs. You will find it useful to request additional copies of the death certificate. Some companies may also ask for a copy of the grant of probate – you may have to wait some months before this is possible.

The following people/companies are the main ones to contact in the event of a death abroad. The list is not exhaustive, as circumstances vary. It will take a while to deal with all of these matters, and I would urge you to seek the help of other family members.

Download a tick list of who else to contact

Tim and I had many good and safe holidays together. As much as I still cannot believe that he is not coming home, that he is not just on another trekking holiday, deep down inside I know – it did happen to us.

Have a safe and exciting journey – and come back safe.

Thank you to Angie for sharing this advice.



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