Hope fades for mother swept away on adventure trip
Saturday 15 March 2003
A British woman is feared to have been swept to her death in a swollen Peruvian river after a canoe carrying her young family capsized.
Bridget Riedl-Laing, 26, was paddling down the Vilcanota with her Austrian husband, Rupert, and three children when the boat hit rough water.
Mr Riedl, who had his year-old daughter, Olivia, in a carrier on his back, was dragged under water but managed to release the carrier, right the boat and get the three children back inside. All were wearing lifejackets.
He also climbed back into the canoe and thought his wife must have swum to the bank when he could not see her. He raised the alarm after he paddled to the bank and fruitlessly scoured the shoreline.
Austrian consulate staff were looking after the distraught Mr Riedl yesterday as emergency crews searched near the ancient Inca city of Cuzco. They said there was little chance of finding Mrs Riedl-Laing alive.
She had been travelling through the Americas by camper-van on an adventure holiday with her husband and children Yannik, four, Fabio, two, and Olivia.
Mrs Riedl-Laing was at the front of the boat on the normally calm river with her husband, a qualified sports instructor, at the rear and the two boys in between them. But the river had been swollen by the effects of Peru's rainy season and the El Niño weather system.
Her parents, who are in Portugal, and brother Julian, who lives in Edinburgh, were planning to fly to Chile if the search failed to find Mrs Riedl-Laing by today. Her mother, Sandra Laing, who spoke to her son-in-law early yesterday, said: "They were hit by a bad patch of water. It had been calm up until then when the boat turned over. Rupert is distraught. The children are very resilient but they are asking where she is.
"I spoke to her on Monday evening. She was ecstatic. She was having a wonderful time. She was saying how great it was and they were going back and said, 'Mum, we'll take you back next time'.
"She is absolutely wonderful, she's bubbly, outgoing, always has a smile and a laugh. She's a very positive young lady, very strong and determined."
The couple met when Mrs Riedl-Laing, originally from Scotland, went to work in Austria as an au pair. They lived in Salzburg where she combined working as an artist with her role as a mother.
The family's trip through the Americas was expected to last eight months and began in September. As they continued their journey, they were posting photographs and details of their trip in German and English on a website, entitled "2 and 3 halves on a journey from Canada to Chile". It started in Seattle, in the north-west United States, then snaked up and round British Columbia in Canada, down the western coast and into Mexico.
From there, the family took their increasingly battered van through dirt tracks in Belize and into Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before reaching Colombia in South America.
Peru was their first stop after Ecuador and they had been about to travel to Bolivia and follow the road down to the southern-most tip of Chile and back up to the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, via Tierra del Fuego.
The family had seen bears and chipmunks in Canada and celebrated one of the children's birthdays at Disneyworld. They were also forced to make a trip to hospital in Central America because Mrs Riedl-Laing broke an arm, which had been trapped in the sliding door of their campervan.
The couple's last dispatch was on 1 March, telling how the van had broken down in the thin, mountain air at 5,000 metres and they had almost run out of money. After a 26-hour tow to the capital, Lima, they said they were leaving that day.
The Foreign Office said her family in Britain was being kept informed of developments. A spokeswoman said the search early yesterday had failed to find Mrs Riedl-Laing.
Mrs Riedl-Laing's brother Julian said: "I cannot take this in at the moment."
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