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Royal Jomtien 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 Khamthong)

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 broke out.
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 minor injuries.
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 roof.
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 brethren.
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.
Related stories:
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 treatment.
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 prevention laws.
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 blanketed ground.
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 their charges.
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 quickly filled.

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 professionalism.
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 be saved.
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 dedication...

PM’s wife visits the injured

Khunying Phankhreua 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 Bangkok.

Compensation for the victims and their families

From the Government:

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare

Work-related Death:

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. Death

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 Victims:

3.1 Each child in primary will receive 1,000 baht per month while in school until he or she has successfully completed secondary school.

3.2 Each child in secondary school will receive 1,500 baht per month while in school until he or she has completed secondary school.

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 me.”
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 mounts.
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.

Chopper rescue

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 Khamthong)

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 big hotel?”
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 on.
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 unnecessary really”.
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 that meeting:
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 perished themselves.
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 so wish.
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 Protection association.
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 Hotel Pattaya.

by Ariyada
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 2.
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!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Royal Jomtien Resort disaster claims 90 lives

Attempting to ascertain responsibility

Triage teams performed beyond the call of duty

PM’s wife visits the injured

Compensation for the victims and their families

Chronology of a disaster

Chopper rescue

How long can we go on accepting?

THA emergency meeting

“Australian weeks” are coming to Pattaya


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