LEEDS – 19 year-old British backpacker, Natalie CookÂ has been left â€œextremely traumatisedâ€ after plunging from a waterfall in Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand, suffering deep cuts and breaking several major bones before being carried out of the jungle by her fellow tourists.
Natalie Cook, was left with a broken pelvis and fractured femur after she lost her footing and fell 10 metres on to jagged rocks in the popular Mae Wang national park.
The teenager, from Leeds, claims she was given no safety briefing by Gap 360, the travel firm that organised her trip, and says she has issued a claim against it for compensation.
Cook was six days into a five-week trip with 24 friends when she slipped off a waterfall to the rocks below, also breaking her hip, pubic bone, wrist, foot and several bones in her lower back. She had to be carried uphill on a makeshift stretcher by her friends, some of whom feared she had died after seeing her fall.
Cook told the Guardian on Wednesday: â€œIf they [the guides on the trip] had said to me: â€˜Donâ€™t go in the waterfall, itâ€™s dangerous,â€™ I wouldnâ€™t have climbed up it â€“ but nobody said anything at all.
â€œThey need to make sure theyâ€™re telling you whatâ€™s dangerous because when youâ€™re on holiday you donâ€™t really know, especially when youâ€™re first-time travelling like I was. You donâ€™t expect these things to be dangerous but they are.â€
Describing the moments before the accident, Cook said the group found the waterfall and immediately climbed in to cool off from the searing jungle heat.
â€œAs soon as we got there, we threw our backpacks on the floor and climbed in. The water was absolutely freezing,â€ she said. â€œI naively didnâ€™t think it would be dangerous, because Iâ€™ve never seen one before.
â€œI began following three of the boys on my trip who were beginning to make their way to the right side of the waterfall. Underneath the water were huge, slippery rocks which we painfully managed to get across. We then climbed out and started making our way up the side of the waterfall.â€
After she reached the summit she started to negotiate the slippery rocks on her way back down. She said: â€œWhen I went to climb down my foot just completely slipped and I landed on a big, triangular, pointed rock. We were about five metres away from the edge and I got pushed off by the water.
â€œIt was awful because I didnâ€™t go unconscious at all so I remember everything. It was horrifying. I honestly thought I was going to die. My life flashed before my eyes â€“ itâ€™s true, what they say.â€
Cook said her friends later told her they thought she was dead and were scared to rush to help her. She continued: â€œSome of the boys managed to find a piece of wood in the bushes. I managed to get myself on it, with my broken wrist. About 20 of them carried me uphill through the jungle for an hour in the 46-degree heat with no shoes on, to the side of the road where they had a taxi waiting.
â€œThey laid me on the wood in the van and drove me to this nearby clinic. It was awful. I was screaming the whole way â€“ with every little rock, everything was crunching and cracking. It was awful.â€
She said there were three guides accompanying her party of 25 â€“ but she does not recall seeing any of the guides at the waterfall where the accident happened.
She said Gap 360, which is based in Kent, had since refunded her the Â£1,500 cost of the holiday and flights to Thailand but that she had filed a legal claim for compensation from the firm. â€œThey did refund me for the whole holiday and the flights, but I am trying to file a claim against them because there was no safety briefing or anything.â€ she said.
The Guardian approached Gap 360 on Wednesday but has yet to receive a comment from the company for publication.
Cook, who had to give up her job as a waitress because of her injuries, returned home to Garforth, in Leeds, just over a month ago after seven weeks in hospitals in Thailand, where she underwent five hours of surgery as well as a major operation to stop internal bleeding.
Now Cook said she was â€œslowly healing but itâ€™s been a major life changeâ€, leaving her almost housebound and unable to put any weight on her left leg for another four weeks.
Three Britons died this year after being swept into a whirlpool in Vietnam. Sisters Beth Anderson, 24, and Isobel Mackensie Squire, 19, died along with their friend Christian Sloan, 25, at the beauty spot in the countryâ€™s central highlands in February.
They were with a tour guide and had taken part in a common activity of lying in the stream and letting the water move them downwards before reaching an area close to the whirlpool. Moments later, they were swept to their deaths.
By Josh Halliday – The Guardian