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Australian Team Tries to Regroup

Amateur football players won't leave Bali without locating seven missing teammates.

October 15, 2002|Ching-Ching Ni | Times Staff Writer

KUTA, Indonesia — It was their first day in paradise. They had just flown in, shared a dinner of steaks and sweet and sour chicken, and looked forward to hosting a pool party later that night.

But first, the plumbers, fishermen and other amateurs who play Australian-rules football as members of the Kingsley Cats hit a popular local bar. Hundreds of other Aussie tourists had packed the place, drinking and dancing to Top 40 music.

The team had just won a tournament back home in the state of Western Australia, and this was a great place to celebrate.

Saturday night turned out to be the last time the 20 members of the Cats were all together. Seven players remain unaccounted for after a car bomb ripped through the Sari disco club on Bali, killing at least 188 people and wounding many more.

The victims come from 25 countries. But Australians appear to have suffered by far the largest number of casualties. Fifteen have been confirmed dead and 220 are among the missing, the Australian government has said.

Confusion still reigned Monday as workers dug out and identified bodies. Team members said that while they searched for missing teammates at area hospitals, they saw the name of one of their buddies on the list of the dead. But he was standing right next to them.

That, however, might prove to be a lucky exception.

"Our expectation is that the number of Australian deaths will be very high," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Two days after the blast, surviving members of the team replay events in their minds, worry about their missing teammates and come to terms with the fact that no one can be sure of escaping the reach of terrorism.

"You had your twin towers, that was your financial center," team member Kalan Zomer, 20, said of New York's World Trade Center. "We have Bali. It's Australia's No. 1 international destination."

Team members, who hail from near Perth, had worked for a year to organize and raise money for the trip.

"It's supposed to be a holiday," said Zomer, who is a plumber by day. "Now it's a travesty."

One team member who loved to take pictures forgot his camera and had just left the club to get it when the blast occurred. He is missing.

Brad Phillips, 30, said his 19-year-old teammate Brad McIlroy had just met a girl he liked.

"He was sitting beside her, had his arms around her," Phillips said. "After the blast, he looked at her and she was dead." McIlroy survived.

Phillips, a home appliance salesman, said he had been dancing with three other women. None of them made it, either. The blast threw him 20 yards and set fire to the roof, which started to cave in. He and teammate Duane Pearce, a 28-year-old lobsterman, said they were saved by a wall of milk crates that were stacked up like stairs, which they used to scramble out.

The lucky ones climbed to the roof and ran along a wooden beam that was only about 2 inches thick. People clung to electrical wires for balance.

"One person in front of me jumped off the roof," Phillips said. "He probably broke his neck. I saw him land on his back, and his neck just kind of twisted."

Teammate Ben Clohessy said the blast covered him with debris and temporarily pinned his hands. He was sure he was going to die.

Freed from the debris, Clohessy said, he had to scale a 10-foot-high wall. "You just find the energy to do it when you know you are about to die," he said. But he first lifted a younger teammate to safety.

"My shirt was on fire. I had to take everything off as fast as I could," said Adam Nimmo, 20, who was in shock and disoriented when Clohessy helped him. Burn marks now run down Nimmo's arm. He has bandages on his toe and knee, and wounds all over his back.

Even though they are amateurs, the football players said they thought their fast reactions and overall fitness helped many of them survive. Many of the women in the club had a much harder time scaling the walls.

"We were out quick as a flash," coach Simon Quayle said. "Any more time than that, we would have been gone." He said team members picked up some of the women and hoisted them over the walls.

After they had trickled back to the hotel, team members said they just broke down. They all slept outside around the pool because no one wanted to go back to his room alone.

Now the smallest noises make them jittery. The thump of a refrigerator door closing. The clunk of a suitcase hitting the stairs. They all sounded like a smaller explosion that preceded the big explosion that turned the Sari Club into an inferno.

The athletes, however, are quick to praise the kindness of many local people who gave rides to the injured on their mopeds and even took some home to care for them.

But Clohessy, who remains deaf in one ear from the blast, said he is uncomfortable having anyone look at him on the street.

"It's just difficult to tell if people are staring at us because they are surprised we're alive, or if they want to get us because we are still alive," he said. "We are petrified."

If this is the work of Muslim extremists, the men are certain they were targeted because of their nationality. Many Australian athletes head to Bali for postseason celebrations in October, as the Cats did.

"It's definitely a message to Australians," Zomer said. "We follow the Americans. We're just as bad in their eyes."

"A lot of people say Bali is part of Australia," Zomer said. "You see 10 people walking down the street, and eight or nine of them would be Australians."

Now they are fleeing in droves. The government has already sent three charter flights to bring them home.

But the team is not ready to leave. They came as one, and they say they are going to leave as one.

"We planned on staying seven days," Phillips said. "We'll stay as long as it takes to find out where our friends are."

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