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In 2010 on Valentine’s Day, Australian Nathan Edwards, 24, plunged to his death from the fifth floor of a hotel. However, his family feels that the cause of his death has never been satisfactorily explained by the Thai authorities.
Nathan Edwards was in Phuket after landing his dream job as an airline steward for V Australia. The charismatic 24 year old loved meeting people and seeing the world, and felt the only downside to his job was having to spend time away from his family, his sister Naomi and brothers Samuel and Daniel and his Mum Karan, who were ‘his life’.
Prior to taking the job Nathan had never spent much time away from his Mum and had promised to take her on one of his flights to Thailand so she could enjoy a beautiful resort and relax around the pool. Tragically the first time Ms. Edwards visited her son in Thailand was to collect his body.
Nathan died after plunging five floors from a Phuket hotel balcony after returning from a night out with colleagues on a routine stop over. Ms Edwards was told by Thai police that it was a tragic drunken accident, but the mother of four never believed that story.
Along with other family members, Ms Edwards went to the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort where her son fell to his death.
She was told he had come back about 3am after drinking with friends in nearby Patong, gone to the wrong section of the resort and tried to use his door keycard in a room with a similar number to his own before banging on the door, causing the couple inside to call security. By the time they arrived Nathan was dead on the ground below.
The family were told differing versions of how he was believed to have plunged to his death. Initially they were told Nathan had been “balcony-hopping” before he slipped and fell. But the balcony referred to in the official Thai police notes was at the front of the hotel.
The roped-off site the family were shown where Nathan landed was at the rear, meaning he had fallen not from a balcony but a secure outdoor walkway – with a 1.5m high barrier.
“We had this picture the whole time that he was on a balcony, but the site they took us to at the Hilton was a public walkway,” Ms Edwards said.
To have fallen from there, he would have to have climbed over the barrier, knowing there was a five-storey drop below him, something Ms Edwards could not comprehend Nathan would do.
She was also told there were no witnesses and he was on his own, which did not make sense if, as police suggested, he had been “skylarking”. Suicide was mentioned but ruled out, given Nathan’s upbeat nature.
“Afterwards I went to the beach with my children and just absolutely went to pieces,” Ms Edwards said.
“He might have been drinking, but no matter how much he drank, his personality never changed and he was always in control.
“Nathan never used to go far on his own, he always had people around him and he wouldn’t have put himself in danger. He wasn’t a daredevil.
“Even if he was mucking around, you just don’t do those things on your own. I’ve always wondered whether there was something more sinister behind it.”
Ms Edwards never spoke directly to Thai police, with all communication coming via the two Virgin Blue representatives who travelled with her. “I was in such a state of shock and disbelief but if you had your wits about you, you would have asked straight away to speak to someone else from the Thai police or from the Department of Foreign Affairs,” she said.
After 12 days in Thailand trying to get answers from the police, the airline and the hotel, Ms Edwards finally brought Nathan’s body home. Sitting in business class on V Australia’s Boeing 777-300 – the type of plane Nathan had worked on – Ms Edwards began sobbing uncontrollably as passengers boarded for the return to Adelaide. A woman in her 40s, travelling with a similar-aged friend, stopped as she walked through, putting a hand on Ms Edwards’ arm and asking why she was so upset.
“I was trying to get my words out and I said `because my son worked on this plane and he was killed and we’re bringing his body home’,” Ms Edwards recalled, breaking down in tears. “She had read the story in the local Thai paper and seen his photo and remembered he was on there on the way over to Thailand and she held my hand and then went to back of the plane.”Then during the trip she asked one of the flight attendants to come and tell me that Nathan had been so amazing, they felt like they had known him for ever and he made their trip so special.”
The attendant also relayed how Nathan had sneakily gathered up extra chocolates for the two women, who had asked for more but were told there was only one each, and bundled them in a serviette which he dropped in her lap as he walked past. “When I heard it I just thought `that was my boy, that was who he was’ and I felt so proud of him, yet here we were, they were going back two weeks later after their holiday and he was under the plane in a coffin.”
This week Senator Nick Xenophon and Nathan’s Mum Karen Edwards will travel to Phuket to try to piece together the truth for themselves.
Senator Xenophon and Michael O’Connel, the Commissioner for the Victims of Crime along with Ms. Edwards have been fighting for a South Australian coronial inquest into the death but not enough information has been released to open the investigation.
The Thai police ruled that Nathan fell to his death from a fifth floor walkway after drinking with friends but the evidence provided has been the subject of numerous contradictions.
When a second autopsy was carried out on the V Australian air steward’s body, after it was returned to South Australia, an assault prior to his fall could not be ruled out.
Ms. Edwards said the Australian delegation was the culmination of a battle for more than three years after which South Australian authorities including Mr. O’Connel, SA police and the State Coroner had exhausted their abilities to seek information from Thailand.
“I may never know who did this, but I don’t want his file to be archived and his death certificate to read ‘unknown cause’” said Ms. Edwards. She went on to say “Even if he was murdered I want to know that, even if we never know who did it”.
Senator Xenophon and Ms Edwards said they will spend three days in Thailand seeking –
Crime scene photographs which show some of his clothes, his wallet and its contents
Notes from fellow Hilton guests from Syria who said they heard loud voices from outside their room where it was said he could have fallen
CCTV footage that was ‘accidentally wiped’ and has been the subject of three differing official accounts – that is showed nothing suspicious, that it did not exist, and that it was not asked for during the police investigation
Details as to why he was seeking help from other guests by knocking loudly on their door sometime before he died
All the records of his death
Answers to why drugs were said to be involved when only low levels of alcohol were found in his system during the autopsy
Information as to how anybody could have fallen from a walkway that has high safety railings
Autopsy photographs that show evidence of an assault.
Senator Xenophon said meetings during the three-day trip to Thailand had been organised between the Australian delegation – himself, a lawyer, and Ms Edwards – and the Australian Ambassador to Thailand James Wise, Thai police, and the prosecutor’s office.
He said they were also seeking a meeting with Hilton management and the pathologist who conducted the first autopsy. “This is a quest for answers, and Karen Edwards and her family deserve answers, just as any parent would in this situation,” Senator Xenophon said.
“Hopefully with those answers will come closure because there is still a great mystery about what happened on the evening Nathan died.” “SAPOL have been fantastic in their co-operation but there is information we need from Thai authorities to help this proceed.” Senator Xenophon, who is paying for his own travel, said he was also travelling with an Adelaide man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who is seeking answers to his son’s murder in Thailand.
Mr O’Connell, the State Government’s independent advocate for victim’s rights, said he was providing legal support for Ms Edward’s efforts because there were numerous inconsistencies in the case being put forward by Thai authorities.
He revealed an appeal to Thai authorities to release the full police investigation into the incident last year was rejected. “There are so many inconsistencies that we cannot discount that Nathan was the victim of a crime,” he said. “We cannot account for a number of things that happened, for example the CCTV footage that now mysteriously some are saying (in Thailand) never existed and some are saying is available but can’t be viewed by Australian authorities.
“Nathan was a citizen of Australia and of South Australia and we cannot discount that he was the victim of a crime overseas. “We have a duty to establish beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not he was the victim of crime.” The trip is Senator Xenophon’s first foray to South East Asia since he was detained in Malaysia and deported because of supporting electoral reform.
Malaysian authorities have denied him access to Thailand via the Kuala Lumpur airport without the supervision of Australian authorities, which he rejected.