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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2005, 00:00 GMT
Glimmer of hope keeps family searching
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News

Across Britain hundreds of families are still waiting to hear what has become of loved ones caught up in the Asian tsunami. The family of Samantha Fayet, who are using every means possible to try to find out what happened to her and her baby daughter, tell their story.

Samantha Fayet's 33rd birthday passed by with sadness on Thursday, but also with hope among her family.

Ruby Rose Fayet
Six-month-old Ruby Rose was swept from her father into a whirlpool

The British woman has not been seen since a tsunami swept her away from her French husband Patrice and their six-month-old baby Ruby Rose in the early hours of Boxing Day.

The sea that day stripped him of his clothes, fractured his ribs and toes, but more devastatingly it broke his family apart.

As his wife and baby remain missing, the extended family in Paris, London and Bangkok are co-ordinating an extensive and continuing search operation.

It involves scouring all sources, both official and unofficial, for news of the pair.

The Fayets had arrived late on Christmas Day for a six-day holiday in Bang Niang beach, Phang Nga province.

In a story told many times since 26 December, Patrice awoke to screaming. He grabbed his daughter and yelled for his wife to run.

Being only 20 metres from the sea, they climbed a nearby tree, but the water was too strong and the baby was swept into a whirlpool.

Samantha Fayet
Samantha Fayet's husband had tried to hold on to her in the surge

Samantha leapt in after her and Patrice followed. He held his wife's hand until he was slammed against a bungalow wall. He remembers being submerged a couple of times, and then waking on a beach three kilometres away, naked and injured.

He was admitted to hospital in Thailand, but discharged himself after two days to join his sister-in-law Nathalie Archer and a friend in the search.

3,000 body bags

Nathalie's aunt in London, Christine Mackenzie, said Nathalie estimated she had looked in 3,000 body bags containing the decomposing remains of unidentified victims.

Nathalie, 35, had been staying with her three children and parents Andrew and Mireille in the Fayets' apartment, looking after Samantha's dog.

She flew immediately to Thailand when she heard the news, and only left when it became obvious Patrice was not only physically damaged but psychologically traumatised by his ordeal.

Survivors talk in Phuket
The family have put up notices among the thousands describing those missing

She accompanied him back to Paris, having had him sedated just to board the plane and leave the scene of his sorrow.

But for Nathalie, who lives in Barcelona, the search goes on even though she told her aunt she had already "seen things that she shouldn't have to see".

Her cousin Alexandra said: "People have different coping mechanisms: Nathalie's is that Samantha is absolutely alive, but for my uncle and aunt it is that she is totally dead."

On Sunday, Nathalie will return to Thailand to search the hills behind the Fayets' hotel, Mrs Mackenzie said.

Everyone is in shock and you don't know what to believe
Christine Mackenzie
Aunt of missing Samantha Fayet

The family is keen for this area to be searched after a tip-off indicated an old woman was looking after a young foreigner there.

Christine Mackenzie said the hotelier saw Samantha going up the hill, "but everyone is in shock and you don't know what to believe, but we want to check this out".

But checking it out is not easy.

There are no easily available maps of the area, so Alexandra has called on a favour from her neighbour's boyfriend - who makes maps.

They have also managed to get satellite images from "a friend of a friend".

The landscape took the full force of the water, washing in at least 1.5km.

An elephant used for searching in Bang Niang, Phang Nga province, Thailand
The lush terrain around Bang Niang has proved difficult for searchers

They are in the process of buying a satellite phone for Nathalie to take with her.

"We have used every single contact we have," said Alexandra.

After next week, the family will consider what to do next.

"We can't let go of this glimmer of hope," Alexandra said.

False hopes have been raised by e-mails from hoaxers.

E-mail hoaxes

They were warned by the Metropolitan Police not to open the e-mail from a hoaxer stating relatives had been confirmed dead.

They had also received an e-mail including a link to a photo of a mutilated baby.

This they passed on to the police who believe it to be another hoax.

But even contacts from official sources have not yet led to identification.

Alexandra said: "We've been on the BBC site, Sky News, all the news channels, the Thai sites and all the noticeboards out there.

"Even today, a woman from the Red Cross site gave us a description of a baby which matched the description of Ruby. But it wasn't her, she was too old."

It's very, very difficult for them to let Nathalie go again, but she has to do it - she can't let go of her sister just like that
Alexandra Mackenzie
Cousin of missing Briton

Nathalie plans to hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a local driver, and a stranger skilled in search and rescue has offered to help.

"Some people were rescued from the area recently, but they were so traumatised that they couldn't come down. It took an ambulance to get them," said Christine.

Samantha's parents remain in Paris keeping a 24-hour watch on their son-in-law.

"It's very, very difficult for them to let Nathalie go again, but she has to do it - she can't let go of her sister just like that," said Alexandra.

Britons return to Koh Phi Phi


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