Honeymoon couple in river 'tubing' tragedy

Woman finds husband's body after three-day search
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The Independent Online

A distraught bride spent three days searching for the body of her husband after he was swept away in a flooded river while they were on honeymoon in Laos.

Michael O'Sullivan and his wife Ilana James had been "tubing" down the Nam Xong on giant tractor inner tubes with 18 other tourists when everyone became separated by the strong currents and turbulence caused by the rainy season. Locals rushed to the riverside with sticks and ropes to rescue 19 of the tourists but they were unable to save Mr O'Sullivan, 39.

His wife led the search for her husband and hired a succession of boats to travel up and down the river, constantly scouring the banks, until she found his body yesterday. On the day her husband went missing she was mugged and had her passport stolen.

The couple, who met while working in a bar in Welwyn Garden City, had saved up since their wedding last November to take a backpacking honeymoon. They set off in June and before reaching Laos had been to India, Malaysia and Thailand. Mr O'Sullivan originally came from Ireland but was brought up in London and studied hotel and catering management at Thames Valley University. Ms James came from New Zealand and they moved to Ireland when they married.

They were visiting the town of Vang Vieng in Northern Laos and decided to go tubing which is described by the Lonely Planet guide as "one of the rites of passage of the Indochina backpacking circuit". The activity is well-established and is popular with tourists but the Rough Guide notes that several people have drowned while tubing on the Nam Xong.

Mr O'Sullivan's family have been angered that he was allowed to travel on a tube without a lifejacket when the river, usually placid, was fast and full. Pennie O'Sullivan, one of his seven brothers and sisters, said: "We want to know why tourists are put in such a dangerous position in the peak of the rainy season with no lifejackets."

His brother, John, said that until the body was found the family was convinced that Michael would turn up safe. "I always thought I would get out here and I would find him alive," said John. "He was such an intelligent and strong guy. It has been a terrible time for Ilana."

John O'Sullivan was angered by the attitude of insurers who he said have refused to pay the £620 costs incurred during the search for the body. He added: "They have made things very difficult for Ilana."