Blog describes dream vacation in South Africa that turned to tragedy for child crash survivor

By Toby Sterling, AP
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Travel blog posted of crash survivor’s last safari

AMSTERDAM — Ruben van Assouw had a dream vacation. His father’s travel blog offers a poignant look at the 9-year-old’s journey with his family, witnessing the spectacular natural wonders of South Africa’s Mac Mac Falls, a vista called “God’s Window,” and a tableau of rhinos, impalas and other wild animals.

The holiday ended in an incomprehensible disaster. The crash of Afriqiyah Airlines Flight 711, which slammed into the ground upon landing in Tripoli, Libya, left Ruben the sole survivor.

His father’s diary of the Dutch family’s once-in-a-lifetime safari gives a glimpse into the family’s last days — some mundane, some inspiring — as they celebrated an important anniversary.

The trip began on a rough note. Ruben was sick on the plane to South Africa, and on the first day of the safari he “puked the car full,” Patrick van Assouw wrote on his blog. But the family soon made their way through some of the most spectacular nature areas in the world. Their route took them through parts of South Africa, across the border into Swaziland, and finally into the mountainous nation of Lesotho before they turned back for their return home.

The family from the small city of Tilburg, Patrick, 40, wife Trudy, 41, and 11-year-old son Enzo were among the 103 dead in Wednesday’s crash. Rescue workers found Ruben, unconscious but breathing, still strapped to his seat at the far end of a field of debris.

An aunt and uncle went to Ruben’s bedside Thursday after doctors operated to repair his shattered legs. It was unclear when he would go home — or when he would be told he would go home without his parents and older brother.

The safari was a celebration of his parents’ 12 1/2-year wedding anniversary — a major milestone in Dutch tradition.

Patrick set up a blog about the vacation, and his hometown newspaper, Brabants Dagblad, posted a link to the web address Thursday.

“The boys have been counting the days and minutes and can’t wait. Just three more nights’ sleep, boys!,” Patrick wrote in an entry dated April 23.

Although most of the Dutch victims booked package trips through tour operators, the Van Assouws bought their plane tickets directly from Afriqiyah, flying from Brussels, Belgium through Libya and on to Johannesburg, South Africa.

The father didn’t attempt to update the weblog during the trip: the bulk of the entries were posted in the early morning of May 10, just a day before the family boarded the ill-fated return flight.

“Finally we’re back in the inhabited world: we have Internet,” he wrote. “Here’s the whole diary posted with some photos too.”

One shows two boys — apparently Ruben and Enzo — posing in front of waterfalls. Others show wildlife and sunsets.

Patrick posted about cheap meals and panoramic views, but the highlight of the trip was Kruger National Park.

“It is exiting, after all, to drive around here — just like that — with the idea that there are all kinds of wild animals to meet,” he wrote.

“We ran into a very large number of impalas, which we nicknamed deers. Enzo’s second find was the elephant. Also saw buffalo, gnu, fox, zebra, more deer, ostrich, a lot of birds, turtle, giraffe, apes, boar, more deer.”

The following day the family encountered two rhinos, and later in the trip they saw a hippo.

Patrick gave the place of honor on his blog to a flat tire in a desolate spot near Sani Pass, which connects South Africa and Lesotho, possibly thinking it would be the worst misfortune the family would suffer on the trip.

“We had to unpack half the car to find the stuff, but we did it,” he wrote.

Earlier the same day, the family stood on a remote bluff overlooking a stunning panorama of Lesotho. It was the final day of the safari, May 9.

“Beautiful Mother’s Day gift,” Patrick wrote.



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