Letter: High Commission's role in Zimbabwe rescue

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The Independent Online
From Mr Tony Baldry

Sir: No parent should have to face the agonising decisions Andrew Pearson had to take following the tragic accident involving his son, David, in Zimbabwe in 1989 ("My son lay dying, cradled in my arms", 18 May). But Esther Oxford's article makes serious allegations about the British High Commission which cannot be left unanswered.

Our High Commission did help to co-ordinate rescue efforts. When our duty officer learned of the accident from the Canadian High Commission, he immediately contacted the police to arrange a helicopter evacuation. We also pressed the air force for its assistance. The Zimbabwean Minister of Defence authorised the use of a helicopter. But the Zimbabwean authorities decided that the helicopter could not fly during the hours of darkness. This was a decision we could not alter.

Next morning, it was raining and cloudy and the Zimbabwean authorities decided that the conditions were too poor for the helicopter to fly. By the time he found out that the helicopter had not flown, it was no longer possible for the duty officer to contact the Pearsons on the mountainside.

There is no question of our travel advice being withheld from the public. It is freely available on request. Our advice at the time did warn of the security risk in the border region with Mozambique, where the park is situated, and that occasional cross-border incursions by Renamo forces had occurred. Travellers visiting that area were warned to do so with caution.

Dr Pearson and his family have our deepest sympathy. But it is wrong to imply that our High Commission contributed to this tragic accident when, in fact, they did all they could to help once they were alerted.

Yours sincerely,

TONY BALDRY

Parliamentary Under-Secretary

of State

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

London, SW1

16 May

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