A survivor behind one of the most famous interviews from the aftermath of the Bali bombing has admitted 20 years on that “it was a complete lie, I fabricated everything”.
Peter Hughes was approached by Channel Nine reporter Mark Burrows while he was in deep shock with burns to 50 per cent of his body following the sickening blasts which killed 202 people on October 12, 2002.
Laying in his hospital bed with his face swollen and battered, he decided to twist the truth when faced with questions about the attack from the reporter.
He had been given just a 5 per cent chance of surviving – but he did not want his family to worry.
“To be completely honest with you it was just a bang, a crash, lots of fire – something out of the ordinary, I suppose,” he said describing the attack.
Mr Hughes said he was being “well looked after” and thanked the medical staff and volunteers.
“There are a lot worse people than me,” he said. “I just feel a bit swollen at the moment, that’s all. Can’t complain.”
Exactly 20 years later, Mr Hughes today revealed he was actually very distressed and just wanted to let his loved ones know he was okay.
In reality, he thought he was going to die. He was very seriously injured, was later in a coma and came very close to death.
Mr Hughes told Channel Nine on Wednesday the 20th anniversary of the attacks was “a little bit overwhelming” – but that he felt “blessed” to be alive.
He said that at the time, Burrows was his “only conduit back to my son and all my family, my friends”.
But despite his brave face, he was sure he was going to die.
“It was just a matter of trying to get the message across and Mark being the person he was, he fronted up and said he’d get a message back to my son and I did the interview.
“It was a complete lie, I fabricated everything.
“It was just hope because everything around me was about hope. And I was just there to hang on and I was just wishing everyone else the same thing,” he said.
Mourners mark 20th anniversary
Hundreds of mourners and survivors commemorated on Wednesday the 20th anniversary of the bombings that killed more than 200 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Grieving families, attack survivors and representatives from several embassies will attend a memorial in Bali’s popular tourist hub of Kuta, where Al-Qaeda-linked militants detonated bombs at a bar and nightclub on October 12, 2002.
“It’s okay that some people have forgotten what happened 20 years ago but there are still real victims, there are children who lost their parents in the bombing,” said Thiolina Marpaung, one of the organisers of the memorial who was left with permanent eye injuries in the attack.
“I don’t want them to be forgotten,” the 47-year-old told AFP.
The candlelight vigil will be held at a monument built metres from the site of the blasts by victims’ family members to mark Southeast Asia’s deadliest terrorist attack and remember the 202 victims.
Most were foreign holidaymakers from more than 20 countries but Australia suffered the biggest loss, with 88 dead.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a memorial service in Sydney Wednesday that the horror of the bombings was swiftly countered by incredible acts of self-sacrifice and bravery.
“They sought to create terror, but people ran towards the terror to do what they could for friends and strangers alike,” he told a crowd gathered under light rain at the city’s famous Coogee Beach.
During the memorial, 88 doves were released — one for each Australian killed. Albanese said the Bali bombings had left a permanent mark on Australia’s national identity, in a similar fashion to the devastating Gallipoli campaign of World War I.
‘Haunt me forever’
In Bali, the Australian consulate also held a memorial service attended by ambassador to Indonesia Penny Williams and assistant minister for foreign affairs Tim Watts.
Relatives and survivors held a moment of silence before laying flowers and wreaths in the consulate’s memorial garden.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo will address families later in the day by video and former Australian prime minister John Howard will deliver a speech.
In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong attended a memorial ceremony with Indonesia’s ambassador Siswo Pramono.
“We recommit to the ongoing work shared by Australia and Indonesia to counter the scourge of violent extremism,” Albanese and Wong said in a joint statement.
Local militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), linked to Al-Qaeda, was blamed for the bombings.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, has long struggled with Islamist militancy.
All the leading perpetrators of the Bali attacks were either executed, killed by police or jailed.
But the Indonesian government is considering an early release for Bali bombmaker Umar Patek. He has only served half of his 20-year sentence.
Jakarta held off freeing him after angering Australia and the victims’ relatives, who say his pending release has caused fresh trauma before the anniversary.
“I would be very angry and disappointed,” 55-year-old survivor I Dewa Ketut Rudita Widia Putra told AFP.
Survivors and relatives of the dead are still trying to reconcile with the bomb blasts that killed scores at Sari nightclub and Paddy’s Bar.
“I’m still feeling the trauma. Until today, I still don’t have the bravery to go to the bombing sites,” said Putra.
Paul Yeo’s brother Gerard was killed, alongside five other members of the Coogee Dolphins rugby league team.
“I was asked to identify him. My mind was torn between not knowing if what I was about to see would haunt me forever, or was I just privileged to see you one last time,” Yeo said at the memorial.
“Never have I been so scared.” Ben Tullipan, who lost both his legs in the blasts, said he still struggled with survivor’s guilt 20 years later.
“I think about all the people that didn’t make it, and what they’d be doing,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“And how lucky I am to be here.”
— with AFP