Aussie CEO bashed on work trip in US

QUESTION TIME
When Michael McCormack realised his dear friend was missing, he immediately leapt into action. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

An Australian executive on a work trip overseas was assaulted and went missing for four days before consulate officials went “hospital to hospital” and found him in an induced coma.

Grain Producers Australia chief executive Colin Bettles was walking back to his hotel after meeting with colleagues in San Francisco when he was assaulted and left semi-unconscious with severe injuries just hours after arriving in the city on July 4.

A passer-by called for help and the 54-year-old was taken to San Francisco General and Trauma Hospital and admitted to an ICU ward, where he was placed into an induced coma after suffering head injuries and a fractured eye socket.

Grain Producers Australia chief executive Colin Bettles was walking back to his hotel after meeting with colleagues in San Francisco when he was assaulted and left semi-unconscious with severe injuries. Picture: Supplied
Grain Producers Australia chief executive Colin Bettles was walking back to his hotel after meeting with colleagues in San Francisco when he was assaulted and left semi-unconscious with severe injuries. Picture: Supplied

But with his phone and wallet stolen, medical teams attending to his injuries were unable to identify him and notify his loved ones.

Mr Bettles’ last text message to his partner Sue Acton, who was working in a remote area of the Northern Territory at the time, was of a photo of the pepperoni pizza he was enjoying moments before he was assaulted on Market St, one of San Francisco’s most popular thoroughfares.

The alarm was first raised among Mr Bettles’ loved ones when Ms Acton realised he had failed to board a scheduled flight to New York.

When she realised, she called Mr Bettles’ “best-mate”, former employer and former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack for help.

Colin Bettles and former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack played alongside each other on the parliamentary cricket team. Picture: Supplied.
Colin Bettles and former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack played alongside each other on the parliamentary cricket team. Picture: Supplied.
Mr Bettles partner raised the alarm when he failed to board a scheduled flight to New York. Picture: Supplied
Mr Bettles partner raised the alarm when he failed to board a scheduled flight to New York. Picture: Supplied

Mr McCormack said Mr Bettles’ partner was initially in a “rather calm state” when she called him but upon making contact with the hotel and realising Mr Bettles had not made it back to his room, concerns began to grow.

“They had told her that his luggage had been left in his room unopened. His bed hadn’t been turned back. The shower hadn’t been used, and the towels were left unused,” Mr McCormack told NewsWire.

“I find it extraordinary that a hotel with a person who was due to check out on the following morning, early to catch a flight to New York, that they just put the luggage in storage and leave it at that.

“Quite frankly, I thought it was extraordinary behaviour.”

While Mr McCormack said he “thought the worst” he immediately “got on with the job” and called foreign minister Penny Wong and the Australian Federal Police in an attempt to locate Mr Bettles.

“The worst case scenario was that he was in a morgue with a tag with John Doe written on it...or that we never find him again,” he said.

Prior to finding him, Mr McCormack even considered calling former prime minister Kevin Rudd to help locate his dear friend.

Nationals MP Michael McCormack and Bettles are long time “best mates”. Picture: Supplied.
Nationals MP Michael McCormack and Bettles are long time “best mates”. Picture: Supplied.
Mr Bettles and Mr McCormack have worked alongside each other for 15 years. Picture: Supplied
Mr Bettles and Mr McCormack have worked alongside each other for 15 years. Picture: Supplied

“I thought well, if you can bring Julian Assange home, he can jolly well bring Col Bettles home and I didn’t have to because I got the call from Sue to say we found him,” he said.

“We found him thanks to consular officials going hospital to hospital, ward to ward.”

Mr McCormack said a “feeling of relief swept over” him when he was told Bettles was alive on Monday evening.

Colleagues who rushed to Mr Bettles bedside have since told Mr McCormack that he is “not in a good way” and he remains largely unable to talk in his hospital bed.

It remains unclear when Mr Bettles will be discharged from hospital and able to return home from hospital.

Mr McCormack has worked alongside Mr Bettles for a number of years and described his friend as a “well-respected” man across multiple industries.

The pair were also the opening batsman in the parliamentary cricket team.

Mr Bettles is a former journalist, who covered the grains industry, and rural and agricultural issues for a decade. In 2018, he left journalism and started a new career as a media adviser for Mr McCormack.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the department is “providing consular assistance to an Australian who was reported missing in the United States”.