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Bali - The Real Story...

To all my friends,

I am sending this to all in my address book, basically it's a long story which I want you to hear but can't tell everyone on the phone.

Firstly, I'm fine. Extremely, and I am talking extremely lucky. The doctor made me have a blood test as a precaution as I got a lot of blood on me from other people, but assures me it will be clear.

Yes, I was there, about 30 or 40 metres or 10 seconds away to be exact.

Thank you very, very much to all those who called me, sorry I was short, but from the email you will read why that was the case.

Ok, here's how it happened....

I had been in Bali for about 10 days and had an excellent time up until the night of 12 October. I had gone away with some excellent people I have been working with here in East Timor with the UN. Mike a NZ Air Force Squadron Leader, Nick a Riot Cop from Liverpool in the UK and Francisco a Captain from the Portuguese Paratroopers. We had been white water rafting, jet skiing, parasailing and drinking a truckload of beers. Which is pretty much your standard Bali holiday. I have even got a bloody good tan.

Every night was about the same. Have an afternoon siesta, get up around 8pm, dinner until 9.30pm, get to Paddy's by 10pm for Happy Hour. Then over to the Sari Club sometime between 11.30pm to midnight, home nice and early (never before 5am). Call us creatures of habit, but other than Paddy's or Sari, there's not much else. That was where all the Aussies and other westerners went to, and every night both places were packed.

The 12th was no different, had dinner, we were joined by some backpackers from the UK, Lucinda and Anna. They had just flown in from Cambodia and we were swapping stories about drinking in Phnom Penh. We arrived at Paddy's after 10pm and one of the lads bough the first round, some absolutely crap German beer which was on special. I drank half, which I was no enjoying, keen for a Carlsberg. I had been meaning to go to the internet café that day and transfer some of the USD I have been earning in East Timor to another account. I wanted to do it as the cash was building up and would be better off my mortgage. I though now was a good time, rather than trying to do it after 27 beers. So I headed off to the internet café, ANZ internet banking wasn't working after 4 attempts. So I decided to have another beer with the lads and try again.

I walked back to Paddy's and the next round they had bought was again this crap German beer. There was a German guy who had joined the group and was standing next to me; I saw his name hours later on the list of dead on the wall of Denpasar General Hospital. That night nothing was out of the ordinary, the same as every other night we had been there before. However when I think about it and talking to my friends, there was one thing. When I returned to Paddy's, on my left was the German guy, and on my right was a Middle Eastern looking male who was very much out of place. He was wearing a blue and white-stripped shirt and his eyes were very weird and he was sweating heavily. He was not drinking and was just looking at the place, not at the girls, not at the TV, just keeping a look out. He didn't like making eye contact with me, and dropped his stare. I thought it was weird, but that was all. My mate Nick thought the same. We passed this onto the Federal Police in an interview today.

I had a quick chat and told them I would be back to buy a round of Carlsberg. Mike turned and said to me, in all seriousness, "Cocksy its you last night in Bali, you have to go out with a bang". In about 2 minutes from then, he wasn't further from the truth. I had a look at the dance floor at the back, full of people, then headed up stairs to have a look. It had crossed my mind to go to the toilet, but for some reason I still do not know now, I went up the stairs. The top dance floor had a few people on it but not a lot going on, I headed back down the stairs and saw the guys weren't ready for another beer yet. So I decided to go and try the internet bank again while I will still sober. The guy in the blue and white stripped shirt had gone. So I headed out onto Legian Street towards the internet café.

I was about 10 seconds away from the front entrance, or about 30 or 40 metres when the first blast went off. The power was cut and I knew something was wrong. About 2 or 3 seconds later hell on earth started. The blast threw me on the ground and I was covered in glass. The flames rose 50 metres into the air lighting the area up and I could see the silhouettes of many people in front of and in the blast. The Sari Club and Paddy's were in flames. I had to get out of there and find my mates. I located Nick and Francisco, they couldn't hear me as their hearing was damaged in the blast. I couldn't find Mike, Francisco has seen him get out but was running towards to the Sari. They had Ana and Lucinda with them; Anna was in a bad way with a badly burnt back. I picked a girl up who was in a really bad way, she was from Geelong and I found out that later on she died - 95% burns to her body. We took them back to the hotel which was not to far away. The front lawn of the hotel was awash with blood and the smell of burnt flesh. I was gagging carrying that girl back.

We gave what first aid we could on the lawn; most people were standing around doing nothing. It was hard to get people to even get a blanket from their room. The Balinese cab drivers were not taking people who had blood on them. We organised the owner from the hotel to take the critical ones in his ute to the hospital. We then found Mike, initially he looked fine. It was a big relief as I was planning to go back to the Sari and Paddy's to look for him. After he had been there for 5 minutes I saw his back, it was burnt so bad it was bleeding, blistered and blackened in places. We all must have been running on adrenalin, as he still had no pain. I then grabbed my phone, passport and torch and told Mike I was taking Anna and him to the hospital.

I called home and to East Timor on the way to the hospital. In 15 minutes my phone went mad and did not stop for the next 24 hours. The General in East Timor directed that I stay in Bali and give updates on the general situation, medical situation, and account for all UN personnel in Bali on leave. I was their only contact on the ground. At that time I knew that there was about 30 Portuguese Paratroopers on leave there who all went to the Sari every night. I checked Mike and Anna into a clinic in Kuta who handled ex-pats; the place was out of control.

I then got in a cab and headed for the Denpasar General Hospital, which is the biggest hospital on the island. What I saw there will remain with me forever, it was totally out of control and made me realise how lucky I was. The place was like a scene from WW1 movie in a trench hospital. Dead people everywhere, people so burnt they were unrecognisable, people screaming, people getting CPR, and the worst part was that most of them were Australians aged between 20 - 30. I arrived there at 12.30 am, an hour after the blast. I rang East Timor and told then to get medical people there ASAP, they started planning a medical team to fly in from Dili. I don't think any hospital in the world would have been ready for what happened, and Denpasar General certainly was not.

I then spent the next 4 - 5 hours looking for UN personnel, some were in different hospitals with burns and shrapnel wounds. They were discharged or about to be discharged. I made it back to the clinic where Mike and Anna were, Mike was flying on morphine by then. The UN started sending me faxes of lists of UN personnel which had to be accounted for. I could account for some from going to the hospitals, but there was still some 40 unaccounted for, and this was at 6am the next morning. Francisco was also with Mike so we set off to find these Portuguese and Brazilian soldier on motorbike. As the Sari and Paddy's we basically in the middle of Kuta, the quickest way to get to these hotels was to get through the crowds of locals who were gathering around the site and walk through the site. Armed with my army ID we crossed through. The Indonesian police and army had already started getting the bodies out, which was now a row about 50 or 60 metres long. Some of them were covered, but it looked like they had run out of body bags hours ago, and then ran out of white sheets, so the badly burnt ones were lying in the sun.

After hours of bashing on hotel doors and walking around the hospitals looking at the injured and some dead, we were still one Portuguese paratrooper and one Brazilian soldier missing. They were both on the main dance floor at the Sari at the time of the blast. I believe there are in the morgue in the area with the unrecognisable bodies, however we are still hopeful that they may have been accidentally evacuated to Australia due to sloppy Indonesian paperwork, though very unlikely.

I ended up getting 4 hours sleep between 2am and 6am Monday morning, to be woken up by a call from the UN saying that we were going to be evacuated back to Dili and I was coordinating the first flight and Francisco the second. The first flight was on Monday night, then second on Wednesday morning. I took most of the Portuguese and Brazilians with me, leaving a few behind to identify the bodies if needed. To date they still do not have a positive ID.

Funnily enough one of the harder things I had to do was get 40 of them onto the UN jet. Once they passed through the express immigration I had organised, they didn't understand what proceed to Gate 9 meant. As a result they ended up getting drunk at the bars around the airport. The UN Air Ops guy told me the 2 hour delay had cost the UN $20K USD, I told him the lads had all had a hard night......

After hitting the deck in Dili I slept for about 20 hours and then I briefed and got I debriefed. Over the last two days I have just been chauffeured around to the General, my Colonel, the doctor, the psychs, the Federal Police, the Portuguese Commander..........

I go back and see the doc on Friday and will be heading back to my border post on Monday. I am fine and have not turned into a nut case or an alcoholic (well not anymore than the amount we were drinking in Bali leading up to the 12th!!).

One thing which I am very aware of when I watch the media coverage here is how lucky I am. I see a lot of familiar faces on the TV, particularly the football and rugby lads. I spoke with them all at the Denpasar Hospital. I was lucky to get out and so were my mates.

My mates?

Mike - He has got 10% burns to his body on his face, hand and back.He's now in the plastic surgery area of the burns unit of Singapore Hospital. He tells me the burns have added to his rugged looks, and even though he is married the chicks will still love him! Also having some problems with his hearing - awaiting tests.

Nick - Unconfirmed, but looks like deaf in one ear. The other ear is potentially repairable. Big cut on his foot and head, all patched up. Evacuated to Darwin.

Francisco - Same problem with hearing. Severely burnt ear and shrapnel wounds to his back. Evacuated to Darwin.

Lucinda - Shrapnel wounds to her legs, all patched up. Evacuated to Sydney.

Anna - Burns to her back, not as bad as Mike's. Evacuated to Sydney.

By the way when I was in Bali a lot of media wanted to talk to me, do a story and all that kind of thing, I gave them the bypass. But you will be able to read about it in the next Army Newspaper - looks like my cheesy pic and story will be in the next edition

So don't worry I've got 8 lives left! Stay in touch, take it easy, and like I say cheers and beers (as long as they are not that cheap German crap from Paddy's in Bali)


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