Bruno Melling-Firth, Conrad Quashie and Max Boomgaarden-Cook were four days into their Thai adventure when, on the evening of 27 June, they boarded an overnight bus in Bangkok to take them along the backpacker trail to Chiang Mai.
The three friends, all 19 and from south London, had been saving for the best part of a year to pay for the nine-week trip, Conrad and Bruno waiting on tables in a cafe, Max working as a lifeguard near his home in Brixton. After backpacking through Thailand, they were hoping to see Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam before returning to take up places at university.
Conrad's girlfriend of four years had also been travelling in the region, and overlapped for a few days in the Thai capital before she waved her friends off at the bus station and caught a flight home. She was met at Heathrow by her parents, who told her the bus had been involved in a collision with another coach, and all three friends were dead.
Almost three months after that shocking tragedy, the mothers of the three young men say they are still, at times, barely able to speak of the events of that night. The scale of the loss to the boys' close-knit families and large group of friends, has, says Max's mother, Polly Cook, been "the most bewildering, confusing, painful, difficult thing. It's unimaginable."
But despite their grief, the three women – Cook, Conrad's mother, Amanda Bean, and Gillian Melling, mother of Bruno – have chosen to speak out in an attempt to raise awareness about road safety in Thailand, in particular on its overnight buses. Given the country's popularity as a backpacker destination, the women say they are dismayed at how little is known of its poor road safety record.
"They had been there for four days," says Melling, an artist. "I had had one email from him. And four days later, that was it. They were dead.
"And we just, all of us, feel that everybody should know about travelling at night-time about the buses. Because it's only since [the accident that] we've heard how dangerous it is. Every parent and every young person should know that you don't go on the buses at night. We didn't know. They didn't know."
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