Smiling at the camera, Melissa Laurie looks every inch the carefree backpacker as her boat speeds through a picturesque waterway in Mexico.
Yet less than two hours later, her trip to the beautiful Manialtepec lagoon ended in horror as Melissa narrowly escaped death when her twin sister Georgia saved her from the jaws of a crocodile.
‘We were having such a good time, but I’ll never be able to look at this photograph again without thinking of what happened next,’ says Elliot Scott, a friend of the twins.
In an exclusive interview, the 28-year-old Briton and 19-year-old Etan Zeldenrust from Amsterdam revealed new details of what happened on that grisly day.
Smiling at the camera, Melissa Laurie looks every inch the carefree backpacker as her boat speeds through a picturesque waterway in Mexico
Mr Scott, from Manchester, met Georgia, 28, in a Mexican nightclub earlier this year, and Melissa days later when he mistook her for her twin.
The trio began travelling around the country, hiking in the canyons and working on farms to finance their trip. Eventually, they made their way to the fishing resort of Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast.
Last Sunday afternoon, Mr Scott, Mr Zeldenrust and the twins, from Berkshire, were among a group of 23 tourists who paid 300 pesos (£10) each for a trip to see the bioluminescence – the phosphorescent plankton the lagoon is famous for.
Mr Scott said: ‘The scenery was amazing. We saw flocks of herons in the mangrove swamps and other exotic birds. There was high energy on the boat. We were young, we were travellers, we were having fun.’
The first stop was Puerto Suelo beach at 5.30pm, a picture-perfect stretch of sand where the only sounds are waves hitting the shore and birds chirping in the palm trees.
Some of the group settled down on towels on the beach and others walked in the direction of a palapa – an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of palm leaves that operated as a fish restaurant.
Last Sunday afternoon, Mr Scott, Mr Zeldenrust and the twins, from Berkshire, were among a group of 23 tourists who paid 300 pesos (£10) each for a trip to see the bioluminescence – the phosphorescent plankton the lagoon is famous for
They had been told not to swim in the sea because the surf was rough but it was OK to swim in the river. Mr Scott said: ‘Someone asked, ‘are there any crocodiles?’ and the guide said, no, it was safe.’
Some time after 6pm, while those on the beach were toasting marshmallows over a fire, the tour guide came rushing over.
Mr Scott said: ‘He said, ‘Pack up all your stuff right now – we’re leaving’. I knew the twins weren’t back from their walk and I wasn’t going to leave without them but then someone else said words to the effect, ‘there’s been a crocodile attack’ or ‘someone’s got bitten’, so I grabbed all the bags and ran for the boat.’
Moises Salinas, a 16-year-old who had been helping on the boat, gunned the engine and sped to where the twins had been swimming . He helped Georgia lift her badly injured sister on board.
‘That sight will stay for ever in my mind,’ Mr Scott said. ‘Georgia was cradling Mel and there was a lot of blood.’
Georgia said later she saw her sister being thrown about in the water by the crocodile.
‘I saw a croc’s head which was about two feet long. It swam off, but kept coming back.
‘That’s when it grabbed her by the leg and got her in a death roll. She went round and round and it was trying to drag her away.
‘I was pounding it, and that’s when it grabbed me and bit my arm. I bashed it with the other hand and it let me go. It felt hard, like hitting a table.’
Mr Scott said: ‘We all clambered in the boat and it took off. Someone was trained in first aid and she told us not to use our towels to put pressure on Mel’s wounds because they might be dirty. Mel was coughing up blood.
She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m drowning’. You could hear the fluid in her lungs every time she took a breath. It was horrible.
‘Georgia dealt with it so well. She and Mel were seated face to face and she never took her eyes off her. Mel would look like she was dozing off and then she’d suddenly wake up again and you could hear the rattle in her chest.
‘Someone suggested Georgia should sing to her to keep her calm and she did – songs they both loved by The Temptations and Smokey Robinson. Everyone was in shock on the boat – no one spoke.’
An ambulance was waiting on shore and the twins were transferred to the Angel del Mar hospital.
In the early hours of the morning, Mr Scott and Mr Zeldenrust were asked if they were willing to donate blood. Mr Zeldenrust was a match.
‘It felt entirely natural to do anything I could to help,’ the teenager said.
Melissa was placed in an induced coma, but was awake and talking on Thursday, her family said.