Resort disaster claims 90 lives
(Photo by Kittisak Khamthong)
Kittisak Khamthong reports
The resort towns of Pattaya and Jomtien were forever changed
on Friday, July 11, 1997, when the now world infamous Royal Jomtien Hotel was
turned into a towering death trap by careless kitchen staff and reckless
management policy. 90 people perished and scores of others were injured in
Thailand’s worse ever hotel fire catastrophe.
This week, Pattaya Mail devotes our entire news section and center pages to
full, in depth coverage. Our on-the-spot reporters Kittisak Khamthong, Dan
Dorothy, and Ken Bailey provide the pictures and stories direct from the people
whose lives will never be the same.
(Photo by Kittisak
At a little after 8:30 am on July 11, 1997, at the Royal
Jomtien Resort the employees of the this 16 floor, 4 star hotel with 400 rooms
were performing their regular duties, little expecting the impending disaster.
At that time, in the coffee shop on the ground floor in the front section of the
hotel, a smell of gas permeated the kitchen. This aroused the suspicions of two
of the kitchen staff, Mr. Chamnien Suthho and Mr Somnuk Udomdech. Checking, they
found that one of the 15 kilogram gas tanks in the kitchen was leaking gas. They
asked a fellow employee to close the valve on the leaking tank. The fellow
employee did not do it, so Chamnien Suthho attempted to do it himself. But
instead of closing the valve, the young man inadvertently opened the valve,
allowing the gas to rush out at full force.
At the same time, the other gas tank was being used to boil water and as soon as
enough gas had escaped from the leaking tank, the flame from the stove ignited
it. Seeing the fire, the employees ran out to get the chemical fire extinguisher
to douse the fire. But they were slower than the leaping flame and the whole
coffee shop became ablaze and could not be brought under control. Panic ensued
and the employees threw away the fire extinguisher, thinking of their own
survival. Some of their co-workers were not so lucky and were unable to escape
being burned alive.
Relatives grieve as rescue workers
remove those who perished in the fire. (Photo by Kittisak Khamthong)
Mr. Prasartporn Deeden, 32, who survived the fire, said that
the flames roared out of the kitchen with great speed while he was serving
breakfast to hotel guests in the hotel lobby. He ran out of the hotel’s front
door to safety, followed by other employees and guests. He said the entire lobby
had become an inferno in less than 20 minutes.
Ms. La-oongthip Phananonthiwas, the Guest Relations Manager, told reporters that
at approximately 9:00 a.m. she was at the counter area of the lobby on the first
floor. She saw the flames and called the fire department (191). She did not know
why, but the telephone lines crossed and she was connected with 191 in Chonburi
City. Officials told her to telephone the Pattaya Fire Department, which she
did, but it took her 15 minutes for the line to connect. In that amount of time,
the fire spread to many more areas on the first floor. She said the heat was
unbearable and smoke was already beginning to choke people. Staff and guests in
the lobby fled to the safety outside. She said that after she made her report,
there was barely time for her to run safely outside.
Motorcycle police then arrived to take a report and by that time the whole first
floor was on fire.
Approximately 30 minutes after Ms. La-oongthip Phananonthiwas made her phone
call, the first fire fighting vehicles arrived. By this time the second floor
was ablaze and the first fire-fighters on the scene could not extinguish or
control the blaze.
The Serm Sukh company, the Seapack Company and representatives from EGAT were
involved in three separate seminars on the second floor at the time the fire
Mr. Kiak Saelee, the head of training for the Serm-Sukh Company, later told
reporters, “We had no knowledge of the fire burning below us until one of our
company’s employees ran into the room and told us. When we opened the door to
the meeting room, the intense heat almost overcame us and the flames were
already consuming the second floor. At that moment, the other two groups burst
out of the seminar rooms, running to possible exits.”
Some ran to the fire exits, but the exit doors had been locked by management to
keep hotel guests from leaving without paying their bills. Since the fire was
already intense downstairs, for many the only way to go was up. Their only other
choice was to break the windows in the toilets in the back of the building or
the windows leading to the second floor balcony in the front.
Mr. Kiak’s group chose to break the bathroom windows, sliding down a water pipe
to safety. This saved the lives of almost 100 people, although some sustained
At approximately 9:45 a.m., fanned by sea breezes from across the street, the
blaze made its way up to the third floor. Fire fighters, unable to control or
contain it, sent out a call for help from fire departments in all surrounding
townships and areas. Because the local fire department’s “cherry-picker” crane
was not able to reach high enough, local fire-fighters also made an urgent
request for helicopters from the Army in Chonburi, the Navy in Sattahip and the
Police Department to help those on the 10-16th floor of the building and the
The requests for help to the Army and the Navy in Sattahip required so much
bureaucratic red-tape, operations were slowed down considerably. Many lives had
already been lost due to asphyxiation, especially on the 11th floor, including a
one year old baby girl, a two year old boy and their 30 year old mother, as well
as over 20 housekeeping staff and a woman who was 6 months pregnant. One
employee, Mr. Veeraphon Boriphant, jumped to his death from the 9th floor.
Another man, Mr. San Yuvakanit, was overcome by smoke and dangled half in and
half out of a window unconscious for over three hours. He later died after being
taken to the hospital.
While victims were trying to escape the heat and smoke, the blaze subsided,
leaving a smoky, poisonous atmosphere, causing complete darkness. Many of the
victims who died or were seriously injured were poisoned by the noxious smoke.
Some unconscious victims were more fortunate and were carried out by their
After the blaze had been burning for over 2 hours, fire fighting vehicles from
the various rescue departments began arriving, along with rescue squads and many
foundations to retrieve the deceased. By 11:00 a.m. there were more than 100
fire fighting vehicles and more than 500 volunteers on the scene. At this time
officials felt that no victims could have borne the heat and flames. All who
remained inside were assumed dead.
At 12:00 noon, the fire died down in some areas and the foundations were able to
begin the gruesome task of looking for bodies, many of whom were found on the
3rd floor. Many had died from smoke inhalation, while others were burned beyond
recognition. These bodies were, for the most part, unidentifiable as to race,
sex or age. The body search went on until evening and was stopped at midnight.
Altogether 78 bodies were found on the first day.
The Somdej Hospital of Sri-Racha and the Banglamung Hospital sent physicians and
nurses to see to the wounded and take them to hospital in ambulances for further
On the morning of July 12th, an official and an architect-civil engineer whose
speciality is high rise buildings surveyed the site of the fire, collected the
gas tanks and determined them to be the ‘cause of the fire’.
At 12:30 on July 12, the foundations went back to hunting for bodies and found
more corpses in the meeting rooms on the second floor. The final body count is
90, with six people still missing, including five Thais and one Russian.
In a related tragedy on July 11, two carloads of foundation workers on their way
to Pattaya from Bangkok to help clean up the bodies had a collision just before
the Bangpakong Bridge, killing 10 of the workers.
Attempting to ascertain responsibility
Now in custody, Chamnian Sutho is
shown with the offending gas tank.
Pol Lt. Gen. Kittichok Saengnil, commissioner of Region 2
Provincial Police, has been assigned by Interior Minister Sanoh Thienthong to
take legal action against all those responsible for the disaster.
Kittichok said although the construction of the hotel had been completed before
the building control law was introduced in 1992, the owner of the hotel still
had a duty to ensure the place was equipped with the safety facilities and
equipment required by the law. “The owner of the hotel cannot avoid
responsibility for the deaths and injuries caused by the fire.”
It was clear they had been negligent in maintaining fire prevention systems in
the hotel. Fire alarms and sprinklers failed to work and many of the victims
perished because fire doors had been locked, reportedly to stop guests from
leaving without paying. Most of the bodies had been trapped in narrow stairwells
and fire escapes as they frantically sought a way out of the hotel.
Police investigators were continuing to question hotel manager Suchart
Hirankanokpornkul and other hotel staff. Police said they would also issue
warrants for the arrest of two other hotel workers who were in the kitchen at
the time, yet are known not to be among the victims.
Thawon Ucchin, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the hotel, has yet to
respond to a police summons.
Hotel employee Chamnian Sutho is being held and will be charged with
recklessness leading to injury and death. If convicted, the maximum sentence for
the offense is 7 years in prison. Bail has not been set yet.
However, his sister is defending him, saying that her brother’s intentions were
good and it was the administrative system and not her brother who was to blame.
She showed reporters a note that Sutho had written to his relatives who visited
him at Pattaya police station saying he had been tricked by the hotel’s owner
into surrendering to police. “The hotel owner promised to come and bail me out.
But he never showed up,” he wrote in the note.
Sutho told police that he had smelt gas in the kitchen and traced the odor to a
leaking canister, which he tried to close. He also told police that one of the
kitchen workers came over to help, but removed the valve on the canister instead
of closing it. A spark then ignited one of the kitchen stoves and the workers
fled the scene.
Police have ordered a search for Mr. Thawon Ucchin, the Chairman of the Board of
Directors of the hotel. Since the fire, none of the Board of Directors has been
seen. The only statement made was to blame Mrs. Sukanda Vithawasapong, allegedly
Thawon’s younger sister, who reportedly had agreed to be the ‘owner’ of the
hotel on the company’s registration. She died in the fire.
Police say that even if Mr. Thawon denies any connection with the hotel he is in
store for civil and criminal suits as the hotel is in violation of many fire
Police Commissioner Kittichok said it would take investigators about a week to
analyze evidence gathered from the scene to determine the cause and ascertain
the possible lack of safety standards required by the law.
Triage teams performed beyond the call of duty
Rescue workers risk life and
limb, desperately hoping to save lives. (Photo by Ken Bailey)
by Ken Bailey
Amid the chaos and tragedy, the dedication and
professionalism of the medical response teams was a credit to Thailand
Last Friday’s tragedy is surrounded by tales of mistakes,
cost cutting and lack of equipment. However, the medical response teams
deployed by Pattaya’s hospitals worked on the injured and dying with great
speed and professionalism, and deserve the highest recognition.
A fleet of ambulances arrived on the side of the road which parallels the
Royal Jomtien’s service entrances. Setting up a makeshift post, they were
almost immediately inundated with casualties.
As nurses spread blankets out on the grass, rescue workers took to the 1.5
metre high wall with sledge hammers making an evacuation gap. Moments later,
frantic yells heralded the first casualty being stretchered out of the
blazing hotel’s service entrance, through the hole in the wall, and onto the
Immediately a team of five nurses converged on the patient beginning
resuscitation efforts. Within a minute, more casualties were streaming
through the gap to be met by the waiting medical teams. Stretchers returned
to the smoke filled hotel as medicos frantically tried to save the lives of
In no time there were five victims lying side by side being simultaneously
worked on. Tragically, and despite the intensive medical efforts, none were
able to hold onto life. As each were pronounced dead they were wrapped in
blankets and taken to the rear. Their places in the resuscitation area were
Hospital staff work diligently
to resuscitate victims overcome by the noxious smoke. (Photo by Ken Bailey)
Of the eight victims that were brought to this particular
evacuation point, seven were pronounced dead within two minutes of arrival.
Surrounded by all this death, the doctors and nurses maintained the coolest
Hopes were raised when a female hotel employee was carried out, still
clinging to life through her smoke filled lungs. All present watched in
admiration as a medical team worked as if possessed to save her. One nurse
immediately began CPR on this victim’s chest as another affixed an oxygen
mask to her mouth and began pumping. A stethoscope armed doctor plunged an
intravenous drip into her arm and monitored her vital signs.
The watching crowd of rescue workers and reporters were visibly willing her
to pull through as the minutes ticked by and the resuscitation efforts
intensified. Hopes were high as the doctor fed another drip into her arm.
After 20 minutes, the resuscitation efforts suddenly intensified. Then, to
the horror of all those watching and hoping, she lost her battle for life.
Like so many others, she was taken by the belching, toxic smoke which poured
from the once majestic resort hotel.
As she was carried to join the lifeless row on the grass at the rear, her
lost battle seemed to have an effect on all except the medicos. Rescue
workers who had raced to bring her out showed the strain on their faces,
their eyes reddened by the tragedy. Tough looking Thai men, blackened by the
smoke, fought to hold back their tears.
Only the faces of the nurses and doctors remained emotionless. They were
here to preserve life, now was not the time to dwell on those that could not
As the next few weeks reveal the mistakes that made this fire such a
catastrophe, spare a thought for those doctors and nurses whose part in this
drama cannot be faulted, and whose efforts on this tragic day make them a
credit to their profession and to Thailand itself.
If only every profession in the Kingdom performed its duties with the same
PM’s wife visits the injured
Yongchaiyuth, wife of Prime Minister Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth (right) visits
fire victim Bantherng Samkij at Pattaya Memorial Hospital.
Khunying Phankhreua Yongchaiyuth, wife of Prime Minister
Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth, and Khunying Uraiwan Thienthong, wife of Interior
Minister Sanoh Thienthong, came to Pattaya on an official visit to offer
consolation to the families of those who died in the Royal Jomtien fire.
They also visited the injured in the hospital.
They presided over the presentation of donations from the Por Teck Tung, a
foundation sponsored by Thais of Chinese ethnic descent. The foundation gave
5,000 baht to families of the deceased.
Khunying Pankhreua also represented Mr. Thawon Ucchin, the General Manager
and Financial Director of the hotel, in giving 30,000 baht to each of the
families of the deceased.
Khunying Pankhreua then visited the hospitals and gave flowers, personal
items and financial compensation to the injured.
Khunying Pankhreua inquired after the convalescents’ conditions and asked
for their personal opinions on the causes and ramifications of the fire.
Khunying Pankhreua then went to the site of the fire, before returning to
Compensation for the victims and
From the Government:
The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare
The compensation will be 100 times the lowest daily wage
or 15,700 baht. Additional monthly payments of 60% of the deceased’s salary
for 8 years.
Job Related Injuries: The Ministry will pay the sum
of 35,000 baht for treatment. If costs exceed this amount, the Ministry will
pay no more than 50,000 baht above the 35,000 baht already paid. If the
injured worker is not able to work for a period of more than 3 (three) days
after the injury is incurred, the Ministry will pay 60% of the worker’s
salary for up to a period of one year. If the worker suffers any permanent
loss of any physical or mental faculties, the worker shall be compensated
according to the loss at a rate of 60% of the worker’s salary for a period
of 10 years. If any therapies are needed for the recovery of lost faculties,
the Ministry will pay an amount not exceeding 20,000 baht. If surgery is
needed for the worker to regain the use of any faculties, the Ministry will
pay expenses not exceeding 20,000 baht.
The Social Welfare Department
1.1 Funeral costs of 12,000 baht.
1.2 If the deceased is the main wage earner in the
family, 25,000 baht compensation will be paid.
2. Hospital Expenses
2.1 3,000 baht in hospital expenses will be paid.
2.2 If hospital expenses should exceed this amount, the
Social Welfare Department will pay hospital expenses according to the true
and correct costs.
2.3 If the worker is disabled and unable to work, an
initial compensation of 10,000 baht will be paid. An additional payment of
2,000 baht per month will be paid for a period not exceeding 5 years.
3. Educational Expenses for Dependant Children of
3.1 Each child in primary will receive 1,000 baht per
month while in school until he or she has successfully completed secondary
3.2 Each child in secondary school will receive 1,500
baht per month while in school until he or she has completed secondary
3.3 Each dependant child will receive assistance with
medical expenses and other educational expenses for 5 consecutive years.
3.4 At this time, the Social Welfare Department is
providing benefits to victims of the Kader Factory Fire in Nakhorn Pathom
and the victims of the Royal Plaza Hotel in Nakhorn Rachasima.
4. If the victim’s needs should exceed those cited above,
they are to make an application to the Social Welfare Department under the
Kor Ror Mor Laws.
The Ministry requests that relatives of the deceased and
injured contact the Social Security Office in Chonburi or the kiosks which
have been set up. They may also contact the Ministry by telephone at (038)
784-260, 784-311, 784-419-23 to receive information and assistance.
From private organizations:
The Royal Jomtien Hotel is giving 30,000 baht to each
employee’s family for funeral expenses.
EGAT is giving its employees the same amount, plus
160,000 baht death compensation and the employee’s family will receive 60%
percent of the deceased’s wages for a period of 8 years.
Seapack is paying death compensation of 400,000 baht per
deceased and funeral expenses of 6 times one month’s salary and 60% percent
of the employee’s monthly wages for 60 months in a lump sum.
Mr. Sutham Phantusak, Chairman of the Thai Hotelier’s
Association of the Eastern Seaboard, and Sethaphan Buddhani, Regional
Governor of TAT, provided 2 nights free rooms for survivors not
hospitalised. The Tourism Authority of Thailand also provided body
transport, return transportation costs, and lodgings to the families of
foreign nationals who came to retrieve the bodies.
The Royal Jomtien Hotel was insured by the Krung Thai
Panich Insurance Co., Ltd. for 400 million baht and the Samakhi Insurance
Co., Ltd. for 505 million baht. The building has 150 million baht insurance,
the furniture 250 million baht, the various machinery, 85 million baht and
the lifts for 20 million baht. The company said the policies are for
property damage only and do not cover death or injury to staff or guests.
Chronology of a disaster
Victims trapped on the roof...
...waited anxiously for
helicopters to arrive...
...which brought them safely
to the beach...
...where they walked away
quite fortunate to have escaped death
Above photos by: Kittisak
Khamthong, Dan Dorothy & Ken Bailey
At short time after 8:30 a.m. Kitchen worker Chamnian
Suttho accidentally starts the fire while trying to help his fellow workers
repair a valve on one of the cooking gas cylinders in the kitchen of the
hotel’s ground-floor restaurant. “I intended to turn off the gas but
accidentally turned it the opposite way,” he later told police. “There were
sparks and I had to run for my life before hearing a loud explosion behind
9:00 a.m. Ms. La-oongthip Phananonthiwas, the Guest Relations Manager
working in the lobby, saw the flames and called the fire department (191).
Telephone lines crossed and she was connected with 191 in Chonburi City,
whose officials told her to telephone the Pattaya fire department.
9:15 a.m. After 15 minutes of trying, Ms. La-oongthip is finally connected
with Pattaya fire police. Shortly afterwards, motorcycle police arrive. By
this time the entire first floor is engulfed in flames. Staff and guests in
the lobby flee to safety.
9:20 a.m. A company driver for the Serm-Sukh Company bursts into the second
floor room where the company was holding a seminar to announce the blaze. Up
until then, the group had no knowledge of the fire burning below them. The
flames are already consuming the second floor. Two other groups also burst
out of the seminar rooms, running to possible exits. Finding the fire doors
locked, many are able to escape by breaking windows in the bathroom and
behind the kitchen, sliding down water pipes to safety.
9:30 a.m. The first fire fighting vehicles arrive. The second floor is
ablaze. Many of the hotel’s guests on the upper floors are still unaware of
the unfolding disaster below them, as no sprinkle systems are in place and
fire/smoke detectors aren’t working.
9:45 a.m. The blaze makes its way up to the third floor and fire fighters
are unable to control or contain it, so they send out a call for help from
fire departments in all surrounding townships and areas.
10:30 a.m. Bangkok Fire Brigade Commander Pol Maj. Gen. Pirapol Sunthornket
receives a radio request for back-up from the Chonburi fire brigade. He can
not immediately dispatch support units because the fire is in a provincial
area outside his jurisdiction and he has to follow bureaucratic procedure
and seek permission from Police Director General Pracha Promnok, which
wouldn’t come for an additional 2 1/2 hours.
11:00 a.m. More than 100 local fire fighting vehicles and more than 500
volunteers are now on the scene. Officials feel that no-one could have borne
the heat and flames and people remaining inside are assumed dead, although
seven hotel guests have made it to the roof and will be rescued by police
helicopters later, along with American mother Rochelle Stein Salmi and her
seven year old daughter Sanna who were pulled to safety from the window of
their fifteenth floor room. Rescue workers frantically continue to perform
CPR on victims, desperately trying to bring them back to life.
12:00 noon. The fire dies down and the foundations are able to begin to look
for bodies, initially most of whom are found on the 2nd and 3rd floor. Smoke
inhalation is determined the cause of death.
1:00 p.m. The Pathumwan police radio centre gives the Bangkok Fire Brigade
permission to go to Pattaya to help, 2 1/2 hours after they made the
request. The Bangkok Fire Brigade immediately dispatches 32 fire trucks, 179
firemen and 30 fire-fighters equipped with fire suits and breathing gear.
2:00 p.m. Foundation workers continue to remove bodies as the death toll
3:00 p.m. The Bangkok Fire Brigade finally arrives on the scene, but the
fire has already died down. The best fire-fighting equipment in the kingdom,
which may have been able to save countless lives, is now relegated to
containing the fire and trying to determine its cause.
9:00 p.m. The blaze is finally put under control by fire police.
12:00 midnight: The body search is discontinued. Altogether 78 bodies were
found on the first day, with 64 injured.
July 12, 12:30 p.m. Foundations go back in to hunt for bodies, finding more
corpses in the meeting rooms on the second floor. The final body count is
90, with 6 missing, including 5 Thais and one Hungarian.
Pol. Lt. Col. Mongkol
Kongpreecha, the brave helicopter pilot who pulled Mrs. Rochelle Stein Salmi
and her daughter to safety. (Photo by Kittisak Khamthong)
Police Lt. Colonel Kitichote Saengnil, Police Commander
for the Second Region, told reporters that he requested 3 police helicopters
to assist in the rescue of people trapped in the blazing Royal Jomtien
Hotel. At 10:30 am the three aircraft arrived under the command of pilot
Pol. Lt. Col. Mongkol Kongpreecha, who was flying chopper 2304.
The three copters and a rescue squad flew in from the Bangkhen Helipad in
Bangkok. The flight from Bangkok took approximately 40 minutes. The pilots
circled the hotel and then Pol. Lt. Col. Ongchesada Intarasatit and Pol.
Captain Kamphon Kusolsathaporn descended and rescued the 7 people stranded
on the roof of the building. This operation required more than one trip as
the copters can only pick up two people at one time. A woman 6 months
pregnant was among those flown to safety.
While the two helicopters were rescuing those on the roof, two American
nationals, Mrs. Rochelle Stein Salmi and her 7 year old daughter Sanna, were
trapped in their room on the 16th floor.
Mrs. Salmi had opened the door to her room, but was driven back by a cloud
of noxious smoke. Closing the door, she soaked face clothes with water to
use as make-shift gas-masks and opened the window. Using another towel, she
waved it back and forth to signal people below.
Mrs. Rochelle Stein Salmi
talks with reporters after her brush with death. (Photo by Kittisak
The two Americans were trapped in the smoke filled room
for over an hour as the fire department tried to rescue them but were unable
to due to lack of proper equipment and ‘cherry-pickers.’
When the helicopters flew into sight, thousands of citizens applauded to
give the two Americans encouragement. Helicopter 2304 alighted on the roof
and dropped a rope harness over the edge of the roof. Mrs. Salmi spent
almost 5 minutes trying to catch hold of the rope, blown by the wash from
the rotors and after a heartstopping interval, was able to get hold of it.
Mrs. Salmi put the harness on her daughter first and watched as her 7 year
old child was lifted to safety, then was pulled to safety herself.
Mrs. Salmi told reporters that she smelled the smoke while still in bed. She
said that she heard no warnings or shouts that a fire was in progress.
“I knew I couldn’t get hysterical because my daughter was watching me and I
did not want to alarm her. I told her everything was going to be all right
and that the fire would be brought under control,” she said, but added,
“There was no fire alarm and nothing worked. How could this happen in such a
Mrs. Salmi said she was very impressed with the work of the Thai police. She
continued, saying that in the US, the National Guard and the Army were
usually in charge of handling these type of major disasters.
Mrs. Salmi was very sad that so many people had died but expressed her
heartfelt thanks to the Thai police helicopter division and especially Pol.
Lt. Col. Mongkol Kongpreecha.
How long can we go on accepting?
Today there are 90 souls whose bodies lie in a cold
morgue and countless mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sweethearts and
children who will no longer have the love and support of those lost in a
tragedy which need not have happened. Apart from the pain and sorrow
suffered by grieving families-what of the loss to the country of the skilled
personnel, trained managers and productive citizens who are now, uselessly,
lost to us?
And it need not have happened.
Once again greed and carelessness have been allowed to overrule the dictates
of prudence and caution and, as a result, there are tears and mourning,
hardship and deprivation and irreplaceable loss of loved ones in many
families. In the background - gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands from
many politicians, culpable businessmen and officials. And promises, Oh! the
promises. “Never will such a tragedy be allowed to happen again”; “Those
responsible will be brought to justice and will be subject to the full wrath
of the law”; “Care will be taken of all those who have suffered”; and on and
What short memories we have, and Oh! how ready are the greedy politicians,
businessmen and officials to take advantage of that.
Not very long ago a building, which had been illegally extended, collapsed
in Korat, and suddenly there was a flurry of activity from the Ministries of
the Interior and Industry to check all other high rise buildings to see not
only that they had been built in accordance with the approved specification
but that no illegal extension had since been made. Of the number inspected
in Pattaya, five were found to be seriously in breach of either their
approved specification or had since become unsafe for some reason or other.
All efforts to discover which these buildings were or who were their owners
was thwarted, as was, more significantly, any effort to discover whether
action had been taken to rectify them. The answer would, of course, have
been no. But you can be sure that it cost someone something!
A concerned citizen wrote to this journal some time ago about the closing of
the doors of the supermarket at one of Pattaya’s largest shopping malls,
Big-C. These doors were closed, perhaps to increase security against
shoplifting or simply to increase valuable display space. This closure
presented a definite breach of the safety regulations. Letters to the
management of the company concerned and to the public works department of
Pattaya municipality, went unanswered, and the doors remained closed-and
will do, no doubt, until a fire breaks out and more grieving families are
added to the number of those who have lost loved ones unnecessarily.
These are two examples only of the indifference, to be kind; culpability to
be honest; or even corruption, to be realistic, of those responsible for the
safety of the citizens of and visitors to Pattaya. Many more exist, and no
doubt will be noticed by many whose eyes have been opened by last week’s
tragedy. But those who will notice will be people like you and I. It is
unlikely that the chubby golf playing owner or the official or politician
fawning on him will notice - and if they do, why, a few baht in the right
pocket will divert any criticism.
Now the world knows that Pattaya allowed so many to die horrible deaths
because they could not be bothered to see that the fire alarms or sprinklers
worked in a modern, virtually new, high rise hotel. That we closed our eyes
to the fact that fire doors in this building were dangerously locked.
Yes, we, Pattaya. You and I. It is no longer adequate to point our fingers
at greedy landlords, corrupt politicians and inefficient authorities - or
even at those who control them. You and I, as citizens of Pattaya are
responsible. We are the ones who will suffer the criticism, the loss of
business, the empty restaurants, the unused beds and the insistent bank
managers. We are the ones who elected the city “fathers”, or did not
encourage people of our choice to join the race. We are the ones who do not
complain when we see our livelihood taken from us by those who care nothing
for the city, or even for their country, but are interested only in their
short term gain. It is up to us to show that we are no longer content to sit
by while the politicians and their handlers line their nests, whilst
inefficient and corrupt authorities are willing to turn their backs on
“minor” infractions of the law in respect of precautions which are “quite
Do not sit back any longer, I beg you. Stand up and be counted as an honest
citizen who demands honesty and efficiency from your public servants. Insist
that all the promises now being made are kept, and follow up to see that
they are. Look for yourself at the many infractions of fire and safety
precautions in the buildings in which you live, or shop, or eat, and
complain, complain, complain. Do not allow Pattaya to sink any further in
the esteem of the world.
THA emergency meeting
Sutham Phanthusak, President of the Thai Hotels
Association (Eastern Chapter).
The Thai Hotel Association (THA) held an emergency meeting at the Woodlands
Resort 15 July 1997 to discuss urgent matters that have been brought to
attention by the Royal Jomtien Hotel disaster. The following are notes from
Sutham Phanthusak, President of the Thai Hotels Association (Eastern
Chapter), began the meeting by saying that all tourists staying at Royal
Jomtien were put up at member hotels Royal Cliff, Dusit, Montien, and
Woodlands for 2 nights.
Sutham went on to say that at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Governor
ordered all hotels to be inspected for fire safety, prevention, equipment,
emergency lights, fire extinguishers, and that fire drills must be practised
at least twice a year. If any hotel is found to be unsafe, it will be
ordered closed immediately.
Prior to 1992 there was no law stating that hotels must have sprinklers or
water hoses to fight fires.
Concerning the Royal Jomtien Hotel, several factors contributed to the
extent of the disaster. Designers were wrong to have put the stairs in the
middle of the building. The first three floors had no fire alarm systems.
Pattaya’s problems with a high turn over of staff may also have caused staff
to not have been adequately trained in fire prevention and fighting. Most
panicked and tried to save themselves. But a few who died were seen to have
left the building only to have rushed back in to save their colleagues and
One mistake that some rescuers and victims may have made was to break the
glass windows on the beach side which caused the breeze to gush in with
oxygen to rekindle and make the flames burn with more intensity. There were
no emergency lights in the corridor, and the thick smoke caused total
darkness. Most victims had to feel their way along as they tried to find
their way downstairs. They may have had a chance if they had made it to the
roof of the building. It was also mentioned that it is illegal to have small
bottles of gas inside the building.
THA members proclaimed that we must not criticise the hotel, for they tried
very hard to control the fire, but it was so fast that the manual alarm was
not sounded because the control room was engulfed in flames and smoke. Plus
the fact that the fire and rescue departments were very slow in getting
there with their inferior equipment. They even sent out a jeep first to see
if there was really a fire and that the fire engines were really needed.
Regional TAT Director Eddie Buddhani mentioned that the Tourist Authority of
Thailand, Pattaya City and Cholburi Province, will present a safety
certificate and would announce the names of all hotels found to be up to
safety standards on the Internet, in the Tourist Authority of Thailand
website. Also, their names would be publicised in Tourist Authority of
Thailand offices throughout the world.
The owners of the hotel have pledged they would compensate all the
unfortunate guests and staff as much as possible.
The board decided to propose that the government sector improve it’s
equipment and manpower to help prevent and fight such fires and other
disasters in the future. Pattaya has grown greatly in the last few years,
but the government sector has not grown with it in terms of looking out for
the public’s welfare.
THA members suggested setting up an emergency centre so that all may call in
case of an emergency, whereby to co-ordinate with the public sector in
dispatching the appropriate help. THA hotels will also improve their safety
and fire fighting equipment, with fire drills at least twice a year, and
issue a THA Safety manual for the training of all staff.
Sutham Phanthusak also promised that all employees of the Royal Jomtien
Resort will be placed in their same jobs in other hotels in Pattaya if they
A seminar to be held to introduce modern and effective measures to combat
fires will be conducted by a consulting firm as member of The National Fire
Squadron Leader Sukasame Tanommaneechong, representing Hiller Aircraft
(producers of helicopters) offered to hold a training session for hotel
staff on the safety methods to be observed during rescue operations. He also
offered to inspect and recommend hotels on the viability of building a
heli-pad on the rooftop. He suggested every hotel obtain GPS co-ordinates so
that during rescue operations pilots could pinpoint the exact location of
the disaster area.
“Australian weeks” are coming to Pattaya
Kangaroos are ready and waiting for the
Australian Food and Wine Festival to arrive at La Mer Grill in the Montien
It’s already a tradition for the Montien Hotel to hold it’s annual
“Australian Culinary Weeks”, this year running from July 19 through August
Recalling all the previous events there, it is predestined to be a success
again. Most of the products will be flown in directly from Australia.
Australia, being the youngest continent with it’s population of emigrants
from all over the world, has developed a special cuisine, a mixture of food
from all European countries, along with native recipes, which makes it
somewhat unusual and therefore very special.
Chef Daniel will be preparing special Australian food with a Swiss touch,
for example: flamed Baramundi Fish, Mullaway Fish baked in paper-bark with
Mango Chutney or grilled with lemon and hollandaise sauce, Australian Beef
and Lamb, Lamb Sauté marinated in Chinese-5-Spice with Bush-tomatoes and
Salsa, a classical Pumpkin Soup with fresh Scallops, chilled grain
Australian Beef (you can chose the size), the famous dessert Pavlova, and
imported King Island Cheese in an Orange Sauce.
Already hungry? Well let’s meet there the first time on the 19th of July!