Kate Fitzsimons shares horror of sister's tragic motorbike accident

By Lauren McMah of news.com.au

Nicole was in Thailand because 'she'd worked her little tush off all year and deserved a holiday', sister Kate said. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons
Nicole was in Thailand because 'she'd worked her little tush off all year and deserved a holiday', sister Kate said. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons

Nicole Fitzsimons would never have hopped on a motorbike without a helmet back home in Australia.

But in the tropical paradise of Koh Samui in Thailand, where it seems like nothing could possibly go wrong, she did. It's just what tourists do.

The sports journalist, 24, was in Thailand with her partner Jamie Keith to celebrate her full year of working with Channel Nine's The Footy Show when the pair decided to soak up their idyllic surroundings with a motorbike ride.

It wasn't until Nicole was pulling into the driveway of her hotel at the end of the ride that she was struck by a rider trying to overtake her from the wrong side, and was knocked off her bike.

Back at the Fitzsimons family home in Sydney, it was 3.37am. A phone began to ring.

"I'll never forget the sound of that phone vibrating and how your heart immediately stops because at that hour you know it's not going to be good news," her sister Kate told news.com.au about being told of Nicole's death.

"I remember seeing her photos on Instagram and Facebook during her holiday and in one of her last ever posts she said that travelling was so good for the soul. She was really relaxed and having a great time.

"And what scares me the most is that she wasn't a risk-seeker - it was that lack of awareness of how dangerous it is on those roads in Thailand and how you are so relaxed, before you know it, your safety standards are relaxed as well.

"My sister would have never gotten on a motorbike in Australia without a helmet, so why are we going over in these places like Thailand, which has the second deadliest roads in the world, and doing it? Why is it promoted as a fun and carefree thing to do?"

Road accidents are the leading cause of tourist deaths in Thailand and a growing concern for Thai authorities, especially in the holiday hot spots of Koh Samui, Phuket and Pattaya.

It was four years ago that Kate Fitzsimons (right) last saw her big sister Nicole. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons
It was four years ago that Kate Fitzsimons (right) last saw her big sister Nicole. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons

Under Thai law, motorcycle riders and passengers have to wear helmets but they are not often provided by hire companies or motorcycle taxis, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

The United Nations ranks Thailand's roads as the second most deadly in the world, and Australians are 6.5 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident in Thailand than in Australia.

And new figures from DFAT out this week shows more Australians die or are hospitalised in Thailand than other country, with 205 deaths and 176 hospitalisations in 2015-16 - both an increase on the previous 12 months.

This week marked the fourth anniversary of Nicole Fitzsimons' death, a tragedy that propelled sister Kate, now 24, to quit her corporate job and dedicate her time to the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation, which the family set up to educate Australians about travel safety and insurance.

The Fitzsimons family at Nicole's memorial. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons
The Fitzsimons family at Nicole's memorial. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons

Kate said her safety message was focused on young travellers, especially at this time of the year as school leavers prepared for Schoolies trips abroad. According to travel insurance provider InsureandGo, of those aged between 17 and 18 who are buying insurance, 90 per cent are heading overseas on their own, predominantly to destinations such as Thailand and Bali.

Kate told news.com.au without supervision in destinations where safety standards weren't as high as in Australia, it was essential young travellers knew not to take risks.

"They're so often more focused on finding the best places to eat or where to take the best Instagram photos, and not about how to keep themselves safe and make sure they're coming home with a smile and lots of great photos," Kate said.

"It's the invisible mentality we all have when we're young, so when I open up to them about was like to lose Nicole, they're like, wow - this can really happen."

Kate said she was especially passionate about travel insurance, which Nicole had taken out before her Thailand holiday.

Nicole and her partner Jamie Keith in Thailand. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons
Nicole and her partner Jamie Keith in Thailand. Photo / Kate Fitzsimons

"Straight away, after the call, Mum was stressing to me to find her travel insurance details as they needed to get to Thailand to be by her side. Unfortunately she did pass away before Mum and Dad made it to her, but the first thing they were met with when they walked through the hospital doors was the hospital bills. They weren't allowed to see Nicole until they were taken care of. I definitely learnt the importance of travel insurance there and then," Kate said.

"It was really scary but I got some peace of mind knowing they were being guided by a company that unfortunately deals with this quite a lot. Mum said she barely left the hotel during that time but InsureandGo took care of the bills.

"Initially Kate was booked on a Thai Airways flight home and Mum asked if a proud Aussie girl could fly home with Qantas instead, and they arranged that. They even sent through red and white roses for her funeral - because Nicole was a mad Dragons fan - and they were with her on her coffin. The care was phenomenal."

Having shared her story with more than 30,000 students at schools around the country so far, Kate has made a travel safety film with funding from Jetstar and DFAT's Smartraveller, which she launched last week.

"It's been a phenomenal journey but what keeps me going is the kids and taking them through the journey of what it's like to lose someone so young and so suddenly and in the last place you'd expect to lose someone," she said.

"You always think your loved one is going to come home safety from a holiday. Those are supposed to be some of the most happy moments of their life, not the moments that are going to end it."

- news.com.au

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