It was 7:00 p.m. on 23 October when we received a request from an insurer client for us to begin managing a new case in Rio de Janeiro. Although Brazil is a country that we know well due to the large number of claims that we manage there, this country provides a multitude of challenges and never fails to surprise.
Earlier that day, a well-respected family from Cádiz, Spain who were on holiday in Brazil, decided to hire a Brazilian tour guide and an Italian driver to go discover one of the most famous favelas in the city, which had been declared peaceful just months before. The term ‘peaceful’ does not mean the same as ‘safe’, however, and this interpretation is where consulates play a fundamental role for foreign tourists.
At 10:30 a.m. in Brazil, the Spanish tourist, along with her brother, sister-in-law and the tour guide, found themselves on the outskirts of Largo dos Boiadeiros, a very crowded shopping area in the lower part of the Rocinha favela, one of the most dangerous favelas in all of Brazil where a month and a half earlier an open war waged between rival drug trafficking gangs, which the authorities tried to stop with military presence.
The official version of events explains that the vehicle that they were travelling in with the Italian driver failed to stop at a ‘police point’ and, as such, two military police officers shot at the vehicle, fatally wounding the Spanish tourist when one of the bullets pierced her neck.
The version of events from the family who were with her in the vehicle is that none of the five passengers were aware of any police checkpoints and that the police officers’ actions were deliberately to shoot to kill. The fatally wounded tourist was immediately taken to a nearby hospital but she died almost straightaway, and the authorities began a criminal investigation that revealed the deliberate behaviour of the military police.
Time is of the essence
Almost eight hours had passed since the tourist’s death when our assistance team received the case, so we didn’t have a moment to lose. Timely and constant communication with the family is key in a traumatic situation, especially when it is unexpected, violent and happens in the family’s presence.
Immediately, our team leader selected the assistance agent who was going to manage the case: since one of the most decisive factors for the operation’s success, timely resolution and the family’s safety was going to be clear communication, the person who was going to manage the case had to be able to communicate in perfect Spanish and Portuguese.
Our team agent appropriately introduced herself to the family, ensured they were in a position to speak and confirmed that, at that time, they were in the Spanish Consulate, which we would contact immediately afterwards.
We collected the most relevant information from the family in order to be able to begin our work: they confirmed the name of the hospital that the tourist had been taken to in an ambulance before passing away, and where they wished her remains to be sent – an important piece of information to ensure that all documentation could be sent in accordance with applicable international regulations as well as those of the countries involved.
Our agent informed the family of the administration procedures that we would initiate immediately and of the average timeframe for the repatriation of a deceased tourist to Spain, which in this case would be four days. In the same call, we were able to communicate with the consul and request their assistance in helping to speed up the issuing of the documentation we needed from the consulate.
The assistance team mobilised our funeral director in the area, from whom we required immediate intervention and face-to-face support for the family once they had made their police statements regarding the circumstances of the death. Our team also sent the quotation for the repatriation from Rio de Janeiro to Cadiz, as requested by our client, taking into account associated documentation procedures and transfers to the final destination.
Preparing for the flight
The body had been transferred to the Institute of Legal Medicine in Rio de Janeiro for the autopsy on the same day that the tourist had passed away, and we obtained authorisation to release the body the next day, on the 24 October. Earlier, the deceased’s brother had come to identify the body, accompanied by our funeral team. On the morning of the 24th, we transferred the body to the facilities of our funeral home and began processing the paperwork for repatriation.
Firstly, this involved obtaining the deceased’s death certificate, which was immediately sent to the insurer in order to confirm cover. In any case, the family had confirmed to us that they wished for us to continue with the repatriation even in the event that the insurer couldn’t cover the case. Hours later, we received the payment guarantee.
The combined experience of our assistance team, the good relationship with the local authorities with whom we often work and the case’s notoriety certainly influenced the efficiency and success of the repatriation. After coordinating with the designated undertakers in Madrid, we then asked the different cargo agencies with whom we work in Rio de Janeiro to book a flight for 27 October to Madrid Airport.
The large number of flights from the city of Rio de Janeiro does not always guarantee that a flight is available for a coffin when you need it, and you also need to take into account that only a very small percentage of cargo agencies can handle coffins. In this case, we managed to get a flight confirmed for the 27th and received confirmation of this the next day, on 25 October. We informed the family and the insurer of the number and times of the direct flight and the family were very grateful, as this was much sooner than they had anticipated.
The final leg
We informed our consignee in Madrid of the flight details and sent over a copy of all of the case paperwork in order to coordinate the coffin’s collection, since the flight would arrive in Madrid on a Saturday (the 28th) and the customs agents at Madrid Airport did not work at the weekends. So, in order to get the deceased’s mortal remains to their final destination, Cádiz, by the afternoon of the 28th, which was our aim, we had to process the necessary paperwork with the customs and Foreign Health teams before midday on the Friday.
We received all the documentation we needed from Brazil by the evening of Thursday 26 October, and that same day the coffin was sealed before a member of the consulate and we sent the related paperwork to the Foreign Health Department in Madrid and to our cargo agent at the airport to obtain the permit to enter Spain. On the Friday morning, we received the relevant authorisations and, in Brazil, the coffin was transferred to Rio de Janeiro Airport in preparation for the afternoon flight.
We monitored the flight status and, once it arrived at Madrid Airport, we confirmed this to all concerned parties: the family, the insurer, the consignee and our agent in Brazil, and coordinated the transfer of the coffin to the funeral home in Cádiz, where it arrived at 7:00 p.m. in a funeral car.
In my opinion, the success of this case was the result of the commitment and hard work of those who managed it, as well as their specialisation and the care that they put into every part of the process.