02 Nov CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS THAT LEAD TO THE DEATH ON THE AYUNG RIVER
Date, October 3, 2022
Time, Approx 3.30pm
Rafting Company, Ayung Dewata Rafating
Company Address, Br. Tanggayuda, Ubud Godliness
Starting Point, Br. Begawan, Melinggih Kelod, Gianyar
Started Operations, 2016
Name of deceased guest, Clifford Neil, from Texas, U.S.A. (male)
Age, 64 years
Hotel, Indigo Bali Legian
Booking, from a freelance guide
Freelance guides names, Pasek and Wawan
At approximately 2 pm two freelance guides from Karangasem were hired by Ayung Dewata Rafting to take 2 rafts of foreign guests rafting on the Ayung River. At the starting point, the river had already risen to Yellow Level, which is classed as dangerous. This would normally require rafts to carry all safety and rescue equipment and a rescue raft to be staffed with 2 guides to follow the two rafts in case of an accident. On setting out the water level was still rising, however, the guides decided to stop at a woman drink seller to allow guests to purchase drinks. Guides are known to do this because they receive a large commission for drinks sold. For example, a can of beer is sold for Rp. 50,000, which the guide gets Rp. 25,000 commission. Guides regard this as an extra payment and all companies allow guides to do this, drink stop usually for up to 30 minutes to gain this extra money. Only one company bans its guides from stopping at these drink sellers, Mason Adventures bans all of its guides from stopping on the river to buy drinks, and river guides can be dismissed if seen and reported.
While at this drink stop the water rose to Red Level which is classed as too dangerous to raft and all guests should be evacuated from the river or wait until the water subsides until safe enough to proceed. The drink seller herself advised the two guides not to continue, but obviously motivated by the fee that they could only collect if they finished the tour, and where they would also normally expect to receive tips from the guests they continued on.
Within 100 meters of continuing the first raft flipped, sending its 5 guests and one guide into the now dangerously high water. The guide managed to get to shore and the 5 guests scrambled into the other remaining raft, as the capsized raft had been washed away by the river. The second raft was now totally overloaded with 11 people, including the one remaining guide in a raft that when fully loaded could not exceed 7 to 8 people maximum (in good river conditions). The remaining freelance guide in the overloaded raft was named Pasek. At this point, all guests should have been taken to the shore and evacuated from the river, which was now extremely dangerous, however, the guide decided to continue on in this overloaded raft with 10 guests and himself. The raft now would have been impossible to control with the weight of 11 people in this now raging river.
Within a minute the remaining overloaded raft flipped over, sending all 10 guests and the guide into the water, which was now running very fast. The raft and all guests were swept away by the strong water, including the guide. The guide carried no rescue equipment and there was no way of now rescuing the guests, as the other guide, Wawan, had decided to climb out of the river alone, as he had no rescue equipment and was now gone. Both rafts were also gone, washed away by the high water. One guest managed to get out of the river by himself and 7 others were swept 3 or 4 hundred meters before they managed to scramble to the side and climb out of the dangerous water. Another guest was swept more than 2 kilometers, before managing to escape the river within only meters of being swept over a dam, which may well have drowned him. The 10th guest went over this dam and also over the next dam, which was another 2 kilometers away, and was witnessed by two villagers, Gus Mambo and Made Alo, to be swept over this much larger dam. First, his life jacket was seen going over the dam, then his helmet, and finally his body, which was face down in the water and quite obviously, lifeless by now.
It was impossible for anyone to rescue the body as the water was now very high and dangerous and no rescue equipment was available and it would have been foolhardy for anyone to risk further life by entering the river. It was reported that a body was seen going under the Mambal bridge, but it again could not be rescued, so it continue on down the river and has yet to be found.
Mason Adventures sent two inflatable kayaks onto the river to help with the rescue immediately, but by now it was getting dark and the search had to be called off until early morning the next day. The life jacket was recovered and appeared to be of poor quality and did not seem to be functioning properly and was of poor quality, which is most likely why it came off the guest in the river.
The next morning the search was continued and coordinated by Mason Adventures River Operations Manager and many other river guides from the Rafting Forum,. He is the Vice President of. However the company Ayung Dewata, only sent 5 guides to help, as they were open the next day for rafting operations, as usual with all their other guides working normally. They remained open for 3 days, even while others were searching for the lost American tourist, who until now has never been seen again and whose body is now likely lost completely and forever.
It has been stated that the Ayung River itself was to blame for this death, however, if proper procedures were followed and if the freelance guides had been fully trained and carried safety equipment, this should not have happened. The two guides panicked and were not experienced enough to understand the dangers of the river in high water. Also, the management of Ayung Dewata, should not have allowed any rafts on the water when the level was already Yellow Level without the proper, accompanying rescue raft and appropriate rescue equipment. There are water level signs all along the river to monitor the water height (put there many years ago by Mason Adventures staff), for all companies to see, which were ignored by these two inexperienced freelance guides, who it appears was not trained on the Ayung River, as they were both from Karangasem.
This was a dangerously high water afternoon due to heavy rain and these two rafts, guided by two inexperienced guides, should not have been on the river at that time, given the river level end of the continuing rain. They ignored danger signs and proceeded to put the lives of their 10 guests in jeopardy, probably to make sure that they were paid for the trip. Also contributing to this they should not have continued on after the drink stop. This was stupid and dangerous and directly caused this death to occur, in fact, it is miraculous that more guests werent killed in the circumstances, one other guest most certainly came very close to death also. The company Ayung Dewata was also at fault for first allowing inexperienced freelance guides on the river and for not having a rescue raft to follow when the river level was already at Yellow (dangerous). It is also amazing that the company decided to not stop operations the next day and only send 5 of its 31 river guides to help in the search for their lost guest.
A tougher investigation needs to be implemented not just in this incident, but in the whole rafting industry which now appears to have little control and no regulations other than the experience and common sense of only a few operations. Ridiculous discounting amongst rafting companies has caused a greedy frenzy that has definitely compromised safety on the Ayung River. There now needs to be a government-led inquiry to:
Stop out-of-control discounting (make basic commission & retail price)
Establish rules and regulations for companies
Establish a system to grade guides and train them correctly
Rules made for the protection of guests
Rules for all rafts to carry safety and rescue equipment
Standards set for all equipment, including life jackets
Water level understanding and basic rules concerning these levels of danger
This report was compiled by:
Ketut Weji Adi Wijaya
River Operations Manager
Vice President of Ayung Rafting Forum
Post note: it is interesting to note that the previous day to his death on the river almost exactly the same thing happened with 2 other rafting companies on the Ayung River at the large waterfall. When the rain is heavy this waterfall becomes extremely dangerous and becomes impossible. At that time rafts should not under any circumstances try to pass under this waterfall. However, Rafting Operations that are motivated by greed will often try to get through this dangerous waterfall, that in normal circumstances is of no danger. This incident on the 2nd of October was reported and went viral on the internet. The enclosed story in the mail online, tells the story of yet another Australian family, who were put in unnecessary danger by stupid and inexperienced money-hungry guides, who put all their lives in danger, nearly drowning a mother and her children. This is now all too common on this river with rafting operations with, no management control, no safety standards, and unlicensed freelance guides who put their profit before guests’ safety.