How International Expeditions Tragically Failed My Family

Originally published at Medium

“I’m responsible for everything and accountable,” claims Van Perry — the president of U.S.-based travel company International Expeditions. “If something goes wrong, I’ll be the first to say, ‘It’s my fault. It’s not someone else’s fault.’”

Unfortunately, Mr. Perry’s actions don’t match his high-minded rhetoric. Not even close. My family found that out under the most tragic circumstances.

My parents — Larry and Christy Hammer — put their trust in @IEtravel’s marketing materials when they decided to fly to Peru and enjoy what was supposed to be a relaxing week-long cruise vacation aboard La Estrella Amazonica, a 15-cabin eco-tour river boat designed, built, and co-owned by IE. Mr. Perry’s company proudly took credit for including everything that was “really important” on the boat. Or in @IEtravel’s words: “You’ll adventure in safety and comfort aboard…La Estrella Amazonica.”

But my parents got neither. In the early morning of April 10th — their first night aboard the vessel — they were trapped inside a burning cabin. My father died of smoke inhalation before the boat’s crew members even attempted to extract him from the room. My mother clung to a heartbeat when the crew finally pulled her out, but died sometime later — I still don’t know when or where she passed away.

The details are as disturbing as the pain is unbearable. My parents’ cabin lacked an in-room fire alarm to alert them in case of emergency — nothing sounded as smoke flooded their lungs. One of the power strips supplied in their cabin — which likely caused the fire — lacked surge protection, not to mention safety and flammability ratings.

The Estrella Amazonica’s undertrained and disorganized crew wasted more than 20 precious minutes after discovering the fire. During that fatal period, the crew opened the cabin door and quickly slammed it shut numerous times before pulling my father out. It took crew members another six minutes before extracting my mother. Video footage from the boat’s hallway reveals no sense of urgency even as smoke gushes out of my parents’ cabin.

Apparently, in-room fire alarms and surge-protected power strips aren’t “really important.” Neither is a properly trained crew.

To add insult to significant emotional injury, @IEtravel continues to stonewall our attempts to gain clarity about the tragedy — refusing to answer questions and ducking responsibility of any kind.

This takes us back to Mr. Perry, who has vowed to accept responsibility and show accountability “if something goes wrong.”

Well, something went horribly wrong aboard one of the boats that Mr. Perry’s company proudly takes credit for “designing and building.” And he has demonstrated anything but responsibility or accountability.

Within hours of the fire, Mr. Perry flew to Peru to personally comfort the remaining passengers and re-board them onto the Estrella Amazonica, which he publicly claimed had been deemed “safe for travel.” The boat set sail within three days of my parents’ death — even though the source of the fire was still unknown at the time.

My family was shocked to later learn that local authorities denied clearing the vessel as safe or identifying the source of the fire. When we asked Mr. Perry about his decision to declare the boat “safe for travel,” he dodged the question and refused to provide additional information.

“If something goes wrong, I’ll be the first to say, ‘It’s my fault. It’s not someone else’s fault,’” claims Mr. Perry.

Clearly, he won’t. Keep that in mind before you book a trip through International Expeditions.