By Stuart Milne
Early in 2015 I took 95-specialist crew to Baku, Azerbaijan to work on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the European Games. This was after successfully supplying crew to London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Glasgow 2014. I was on-site Administrator for all these projects and again for Baku.
None of us really knew much about Azerbaijan and certainly never considered it to be in Europe. But a job’s a job and the chance to work abroad for over 4 months was a great opportunity for all involved.
Amongst the crew was a young man called Micah Maxwell-Milne, my son. Micah had worked with us since he was 18 and was involved in all the aforementioned ceremonies. Micah was also an up and coming Production Coordinator with Harvey Goldsmith’s and had worked on shows such as Hans Zimmer, Andrea Bocelli and OnBlackheath Festival. Micah was quickly becoming one of the new order of event professionals. Micah was a dual citizen of both Australia and England. He was enormously proud of his heritage.
Micah loved Baku. Even though the work was long and hard and the temperature was well in to the 40’s he still made time to get to know the city and the friendly local people. He also met and fell in love with a young medical student and they were making plans for their future together.
On the morning of 23rd June I had just started the day shift preparing for the Closing Ceremony. The night shift had clocked off about half an hour before, amongst them Micah. I got a phone call from one of the crew saying that there had been a car crash involving a taxi carrying some of the crew, including Micah. They said it wasn’t far from the stadium so I raced up there to see. I couldn’t see anything except the usual traffic jams. Eventually I was picked up by the local Crew Boss who, after a few calls established which hospital the boys had been taken to.
At the hospital nobody was telling us anything and it seemed to go on forever. Finally I saw one of the policeman’s notebooks with some names written in it. It had the names of the three other crew, but not Micah. Eventually I was told that he had been taken to another hospital and that they would take me there. The drive across town was unbearable and when we finally got there my heart sank. It didn’t look like a hospital. I asked if it was a mortuary. When they confirmed it was I lost all control.
From that moment my life as I knew it was over. I can’t explain how I felt and the complete devastation of that day. How could I explain what had happened to Micah’s mother and sister.
Eventually I went in to view my son’s body whilst talking to my wife on the phone. It was horrendous. Micah’s girlfriend arrived and I took her in to see him. She was completely hysterical.
The next few days were surreal. My wife and daughter arrived. The crew were in pieces and the heat was unbearable. We had no idea what would happen next. We were all in shock.
Thankfully we received a great deal of help from the UK Embassy and in particular a Senior Scotland Yard policeman who was in Baku as a security advisor to The European Games.
There was no direct contact from the Azerbaijan authorities and the EOC did not contact us to offer support or help.
We had massive support from the Production Company, our company office team and Micah’s fellow crewmembers. Everyone banded together to help us and eventually we were able to get Micah out of the country. The other three crew members were seriously injured and were air-lifted to Turkey to receive treatment, again due to support from the aforementioned.
The road traffic in Azerbaijan is atrocious and the statistics are staggering. The drivers are reckless and enforcement is minimal. If they want to be considered as European then they are by far the worst drivers in Europe. Very few drivers have ever passed a test and I have personally seen licenses being sold in the subway.
We were aware it was dangerous when we went out there and everyone was warned and advised to take the Metro and supplied with travel cards. The Metro is Soviet era and runs on diesel. It was pretty unpleasant at the best of times but even more so when the temperatures rose in to the 40’s and it started to get really packed during games time. This is why many people, myself included started to get taxis.
The accident that caused Micah’s death also caused the death of the taxi driver. It was caused by a van driver, who cut across the middle of a dual carriageway in to oncoming traffic and plowed in to the taxi. There was no median strip between the lanes and the speed limit was 90km/h. The driver was local and was working for another contractor linked to the games. Apparently he fell asleep at the wheel one hour in to his shift.
Since the accident it has been extremely stressful trying to get information from the authorities in Azerbaijan but with the help of the UK Embassy we have. After endless false deadlines and a trip to Baku, legal proceedings were started. The driver was recently prosecuted and received a nine-year jail sentence. A Civil case has also started against the alleged employer of the driver.
Not an hour goes by that we don’t think about our wonderful, talented, funny and handsome boy. We are a very close family and our lives, as we knew it no longer exist.
As time went by we decided we didn’t want Micah’s life to go unnoticed so we decided to try and make some kind of change in his name.
In the first few weeks after the accident my wife wrote a letter to the First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva appealing to her to do something about the roads in Azerbaijan. The Foreign Ministry informed us that this had been passed on to her but we never had a response. We have resent it and also asked the EOC President to pass it on. He informed us that he is sure she has received it but still no reply. In fact we have never had any correspondence from any of the Azerbaijan authorities, The EOC or The IOC. Not even a letter of condolence. Would this have been the same situation if my son had been one of the athletes?
Micah was in Baku for one reason. To work on The European Games. This year they will be holding the “European” Grand Prix in Baku, a year after Micah’s death. It has been billed as the fastest street racetrack in the world. This is not only absurd but also highly irresponsible. A country with a culture for speeding and reckless driving hardly needs to encourage their drivers with their own racetrack. We have been trying to contact Formula 1 organisations to try and find out what they are doing to protect people coming to work on the Grand Prix, the spectators and the local people. So far no answers. We feel there are many stakeholders that have a responsibility. The travel companies, airlines, hotels, organisers and authorities all have a duty of care to anyone affected by this type of event. It makes you wonder what criteria they are looking for when some of these countries are awarded these large events. There are many being awarded around the globe including Euro’s and World Cups, Grand Prix’s and other sporting events.
This is a major question. What do they look for in a host city? Surely it’s not all about money?
This affects everyone that travels to these events. Not just those that put on the events like us but the broadcasters, journalists, sponsors and even the competitors. In Baku, just a week before the accident a bus in the Olympic Village mowed down three Austrian athletes.
(Warning, this video is distressing)
There needs to be a change.
For now we will concentrate on Baku and we will not let this lie. They need to do something to change the situation. After that we will have to tackle some of the other countries. Over 1.25 million people die in road accidents every year and a large proportion of those are in developing countries. This is far, far more than by terrorism but the resources and coverage in the media is far less.
We have started a campaign and in the next few weeks there will be a press release and an article in a major national newspaper. Please support us so that what happened to us will not happen to anyone else.