Brother's painful tsunami ordeal
By RENEE REDMOND
PETER Vogel returned from Thailand alone and exhausted, but without regret.
His search for his sister and brother-in-law ended last week, when there was nowhere left to look.
"It's tough to lose a sibling," he said.
"I haven't totally given up hope for Moi, but you've got to be realistic," he said.
The 30-year-old former Mullumbimby man is staying in Byron Bay to recuperate before returning home to Sydney, where he is a marketing and promotions manager.
His sister, 32-year-old Moi and her husband Christian Nott, 34, were honeymooning in Khao Lak when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day.
Moi had called her mother, Joy Vogel, of Mullumbimby, on Christmas Day to announce she was pregnant with their first child.
"Mum's been really good, she's been really strong," Peter said.
His incredible journey began three days after the tsunami hit.
He had waited anxiously by the phone for news that the couple were okay, but heard nothing.
"I couldn't just sit and wait," he said.
By day three, after watching news reports and the death toll rise, he headed for Phuket.
Peter had the help of two friends, Mullumbimby brothers George and Louis Fallon, and Kiwa Stevenson who met them in Phuket.
"There was too much second guessing with news reports. I wanted to go over myself and look for them," he said.
Expecting the worst, the group took energy bars, canned food and bottled water.
"We went over not really knowing where to go," Peter said.
"I had a rough idea of the area they were staying and how much the hotel cost.
"We started at the Phuket hospital and found nothing.
"The Australian Embassy found Moi's passport, which was a fluke, and we tracked which hotel they were staying at when the tsunami hit.
"We drove to their hotel in Khao Lak, which is about 120km from Phuket, but when we arrived the carnage was unbelievable.
"There wasn't much left standing.
"At least I was able to find the spot where they stayed, so I can go back again and visit."
Peter said the trip has helped him to understand what happened.
The group travelled to Khao Lak every day for five days until there was nowhere left to look.
"We searched in the jungle ... went to all the temples where bodies were being stored, and to the hospitals," he said.
"We believe we found Christian, but the DNA hasn't been confirmed yet"
Peter said security measures were not a problem because their weren't any.
"It's chaos over there.
"There's no security because people are too busy trying to clear the place.
"They're doing an amazing job," he said.
"I've had a lot of support from my mates and I'm glad I didn't go over alone.
"The Thai people are amazing, they're just getting on with it. We came out of the jungle one day and a family who had lost everything asked us to join them for a meal," he said.
"They were living out of the back of a truck with hardly any food or money, and they wanted to share with us."