Couple's five-year fight for justice after tragic death in South America (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Couple's five-year fight for justice after tragic death in South America
IT is every parent's nightmare - and for a North-East couple it is a nightmare that came true. Joe Willis reports.
ON New Year's Eve 2008 Ian and Ceri Mather were told that their son David had been killed while paragliding 8,000 miles away in Salta, Argentina.
I was a tragic end to a trip of a lifetime for the 28-year-old who had travelled to South America to meet his brother, Gareth, who ran a tourism company. Gareth's wife Irma was pregnant and David wanted to help the couple after the birth.
Shortly after he and a friend arrived in Salta in time to spend Christmas with his brother, David emailed his long-term girlfriend back in the UK saying that they hoped to try paragliding.
The flight was scheduled for New Year's Eve. The trip initially went well – David's friend had the first flight and landed safely.
But when it was David's turn to go up, the wind dropped after he had been fastened into his harness.
According to his parents, I was at this point that a member of staff from the company unfastened David's harness while they waited.
A short time later, the wind picked up and the pair went into the air – without David being strapped in. The Mathers say the pilot failed to check that his passenger was ready for the flight.
Witnesses said it was immediately clear that there was a problem, with David left hanging from the paraglider by only his arms.
The couple claim the owner of the company shouted to the pilot to fly down the hill, but this meant that the paraglider moved away from the hill as it descended and increased the distance to the ground.
Unable to cling on any longer, David fell 200 ft to his death.
Back in the UK, the Mathers were devastated by the news, but knew they needed to get to Argentina to bring their son home and console his brother, who was traumatised after watching the incident unfold.
Ten days after the incident, his brother's baby was born and the men's parents collected David's ashes on the same day the baby came home.
Despite notifying the Foreign Office, the couple say they received no help from British officials with tasks such as obtaining visas for Argentina, getting their son cremated, repatriating his ashes and launching legal action against the paragliding company.
Almost five years on and the Mathers continue to fight for justice. The people they believe are responsible for David's death are yet to appear before a court, despite criminal and civil cases being launched.
Their campaign has seen the family march through the main plaza of Salta with a hundred other families, and appear on television and radio shows in Argentina.
The couple have been forced to spend most of their time in Argentina to push the authorities to take action. Both have given up good jobs to do so - Mr Mather was acting principal at Freebrough College, in Brotton, while Mrs Mather was a public health specialist working with the region's primary care trusts.
Before finding a job in London, their son also worked at Freeborough College, helping students with special educational needs.
“If we were not here pushing hard at all times who knows what would happen,” said Mr Mather.
“It has already taken nearly five years and we still have no date for the court case.”
Although not a factor in their son's death, they say a coat had been stuffed inside the bag that should have contained the spare parachute - a discovery that highlighted the negligent way the business was ran.
The couple say that throughout their ordeal the British authorities has been reluctant to help in any way, with the only assistance from the Foreign Office in London being a list of lawyers based 1,800km from Salta in Buenos Aires.
“We have been told by legal officials here of a recent tragedy when an Israeli girl was killed in an accident,” said Mr Mather.
“Their embassy immediately sent someone from Buenos Aires to Salta to support the family through their crisis.
“To be English in such terrible circumstances is to be left to sort out everything on your own.”
Despite their legal battles, David's family launched the David Mather Foundation following his death.
So far the charity has helped more than 60 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Salta improved their education.
“We have been given fantastic support from family and friends and in particular from friends of David who wanted, like us, to keep his name and memory alive,” said Mr Mather.
A spokesman for the FCO said officials continued to provide consular assistance to David Mather’s family following his tragic death.
He added: "As part of our assistance we provided David’s family details of local English speaking lawyers in Argentina and local funeral directors.
"We also provided David’s family with our guide “support for British National’s abroad” which outlines the support we can and cannot offer. Unfortunately, the FCO’s consular assistance does not include providing logistical arrangement for family, arranging or providing financial assistance for funerals or repatriation.”
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