In Pics: US mother traces son’s final journey after study abroad death in Uttarakhand

thomas plotkin

When Elizabeth Brenner’s 20-year-old son Thomas died while hiking during a study-abroad trip in India, she began searching for other cases and found only partial data and anecdotal records.

“Nobody was keeping track of this at all,” she said.

Brenner’s son, Thomas Plotkin, was one of the millions of American students who have studied abroad in the last decade — part of a growing global youth travel industry estimated to be worth $183 billion a year.

A view of Munsiyari, a small town in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand, India. In 2011, Minnesota resident, Thomas Plotkin, was on a hiking study abroad trip close to this town, when he fell off a hiking trail, never to be seen again. More than five years later, his mother Elizabeth Brenner, travelled through the town and hiked to the spot where he fell. (Rishabh R. Jain / AP)

The number of American students studying abroad has doubled in the last decade. But while US colleges and universities must report deaths on their campuses, they are not required to disclose most student deaths that occur abroad and the US Department of Education keeps no such statistics.

Elizabeth Brenner (L), and her family go through an emotional moment at a cafe in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand. They were finalizing the path they would take to hike to the spot where her son, Thomas Plotkin had a fatal fall in 2011. Under their hands is a local map that details the Milam Glacier Trail, the same trail that Plotkin was hiking on. (Rishabh R. Jain / AP)

A group called the Forum on Education Abroad pulled together information for 2014 from two insurance companies that together cover half of the US study-abroad market. The group used the partial data to conclude in a 2016 report that students are less likely to die overseas than on a US campus.

Elizabeth Brenner (R), gazes skywards during her meeting with locals in Lilam village in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand in north India. She is on a journey through India tracing the last footsteps of her son and talking to locals who were involved in the rescue efforts more than five-years-ago. (Rishabh R. Jain / AP)

Brenner and other parents slammed the report, saying the findings are misleading and give parents the idea that programs are safer than they may actually be.

Elizabeth Brenner (3rd R), and her family sit at the spot on the Milam Glacier Trail where Brenner’s son, Thomas Plotkin, slipped and fell more than 300 feet down a steep gorge and into the raging Goriganga river in 2011. (Rishabh R. Jain / AP)

The forum is now planning to release a new report later this year with information for 2010-15, but it will still cover only half of the market. The forum’s head, Brian Whalen, said they tried to get the exact number of student deaths overseas from the US State Department, but were told it wasn’t available.

“Knowing which areas are hotspots for violent crime is important information for kids and parents to know when they’re making decisions on where they’ll study abroad,” said Rep. Sean Maloney, a Democrat from New York who introduced the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Study Abroad Act in Congress in 2014 and plans to reintroduce it in September.