Vietnam boat sinking kills Cherokee High grad

Jon Pyle noticed a dramatic change in his daughter as her 6-month tour of Asia came to a close.

"She grew from a girl into a woman," said Jon Pyle, 54, of Canton. Holly Pyle, 25, taught English, rode atop elephants and caught her own shrimp while exploring the Pacific Rim. "Instead of relying on [her parents], she saved her own money, made her own accommodations," her father said.

The Cherokee High School graduate was sleeping on a tour boat anchored in Ha Long Bay near the Vietnam-Chinese border when the aged vessel suddenly filled with water and sank early Thursday morning. She was among 12 people from nine different countries killed and one of two Americans; her friend, 22-year-old Samantha Taylor from Virginia, also drowned. The sinking remains under investigation by Vietnamese officials.

Pyle was due home Monday.

"She loved every single day of her trip," her father, a retired UPS executive, told the AJC.

And, she had found her calling, her father said.

"My wife and I were convinced she'd be going back overseas to teach," Jon Pyle said. But first, a respite back in America, followed by a few weeks at the family's second home in Costa Rica, where she was to meet up with her father.

Instead Jon Pyle is forced with the grim task of getting his daughter back to Georgia. Pyle's body is being held in Vietnam indefinitely as police continue their inquiry; Jon Pyle said U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) and U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson are working with the government in hopes of expediting the process.

"We have to get her back," said Pyle. Once her cremated remains are returned, funeral arrangements will be set, he said.

Pyle, a 2008 graduate of Georgia Southern, was 13 when her family relocated to Canton. She played volleyball and was a cheerleader while a student at Cherokee High School, her father said.

Graduating from college at the height of the economic recession, Pyle worked in retail before spending time in Europe. She was, before her latest jaunt abroad, fairly typical of her age -- unsure of what she wanted to do and not quite ready to assume total responsibility for her life.

"I remember her telling us she was  going to ride elephants in Thailand," Jon Pyle said. "I assumed it was one of those tours, three hours on an elephant or something."

Instead she went on a three-day tour well removed from the tourist track. She even bathed the large mammals, much to her father's surprise.

"She was a material girl before," Jon Pyle said. "Now she's making her own way."