TRAVEL

Panama Gunmen Seized Canadian Couple From Car

11/29/2013 06:53 EST | Updated 01/29/2014 05:59 EST
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A P.E.I. couple is safe at home in Cardigan after a holiday in Panama that ended with an attack by armed gunmen.

Andrew Mirtle and Natalie Bears were on the last day of a week-long vacation in Panama when their rental car was surrounded by three vehicles. Inside were five men carrying guns.

"The first three minutes was absolute terror," said Mirtle.

"He put the gun in my face and told me to get out of the car," said Bears.

Mirtle was forced into one of the abductors' cars. Bears was left behind.

"The guy dragged me across the road, and there was quite a steep ditch and he threw me down there," she said.

It took Bears some time to attract the attention of a passing car and get in touch with police.

Mirtle, meanwhile, was facing intense questioning in the car about what he was doing in Panama. He was hit repeatedly with the butt of a gun.

"My main concern was what they had done with Natalie," he said.

"I concentrated on that, and just my breathing, and sort of OK, let's keep the peace let's ride this out and see where it goes."

After a drive of about 30 minutes, the men let him go.

He and Bears managed to make it to separate police stations. Their rental car was found with their passports and finally they reconnected. They made their scheduled flight, returning to Canada on Saturday.

"You can't describe it, knowing the person you love is safe and in one piece," said Mirtle.

Mirtle said that before the trip, he researched Panama and checked Ottawa's travel advisory page. He found no warnings for the specific area they would be in.

The couple hopes by speaking out, the government might change the advisory, to warn other Canadians.

"We hope that the Canadian government will reflect a little bit more accurately what is going on," said Mirtle.

The two have been in touch with their local MP, Lawrence MacAulay, who said he has written to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"I hope ... the government updates the website, makes sure that Canadians when they travel to places like Panama, that they're aware that these situations very well could take place and to take proper precautions," said MacAulay.

Mirtle and Bears said this experience hasn't changed how they feel about travelling, but next time, they won't limit their research on safety to the government of Canada's travel advisories.

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