A fiery motorcycle crash stole Ronan Bradley’s youthful good looks, but it never broke his spirit. Nine years later, the Irishman, who has undergone nearly two dozen surgeries and been the subject of a BBC documentary, came back to Pattaya to find and thank the Thai motorcycle taxi driver who pulled him from under a burning truck.
Bradley and his mates came from Northern Ireland to Pattaya Christmas week 2003 for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Then only 24, Bradley, like so many young lads on vacation, rented a powerful motorcycle and a tiny helmet, never imagining the horrors Thailand’s roads can hold. On Jan. 2, the nightmare came true when, rolling his Honda CBR down Soi Pattayaland 1, he collided with and slid under a 4×4 pickup that burst into flames, setting the bike alight as well.
Yupharat Wilaipong (center) and his family were happy to see Ronan Bradley back in Thailand.
“I actually woke up in a Toyota pick-up, which was the ambulance,” Bradley told the U.K.’s Daily Mirror in 2009. “I woke up on the back of it. I remember vaguely looking down on the jeep on fire and thinking ‘Jesus what happened there?’”
The scars were still obvious when Bradley, now 35, came to Pattaya Police Station Oct. 8 looking for his rescuers. In the years since the accident he has gone under the knife more than 20 times, leaving him permanently disfigured. The 21st surgery was documented by the U.K.’s “Superdocs” television show. Even then, as he underwent an eight-hour operation to rebuild his right cheek using skin from his stomach, he remained superhumanly positive.
Ronan Bradley (right) talks with motorcycle taxi drivers at the site of the 2004 accident.
“I take every day at a time. I don’t mind going in for the operations because every time they are helping me. No pain no gain,” he told the newspaper.
Yupharat Wilaipong was just 25 on Jan. 2, 2004. He was working as a motorcycle taxi driver and heard the explosion while sitting at his Pattayaland taxi.
Along with another driver, Yupharat pulled Bradley from under the vehicle, tearing off his taxi vest and using it to tamp down the flames consuming the young Irishman. Sawang Boriboon volunteer Bunlue Inthrasawang, passing by on his way home from work, sped him to Pattaya Memorial Hospital. Bradley was already unconscious, so Yupharat rushed back to his bike, worried it might be stolen because he left the keys in the ignition.
He never expected to see Bradley again.
Yupharat, who now runs the Pithak Chai Air Conditioning repair shop, said he hadn’t thought about that day in a long time. He didn’t know that, for the past two years, Bradley had been looking for him.
Being pulled from under the burning truck was like being “born again from death,” Bradley told reporters at Pattaya Police Station this month. “The most important goal of my return to Thailand this time is to search for people who had rescued me.”
Yupharat said a motorcycle taxi driver friend had called him in 2011, saying Bradley wanted to meet him. He never called back. But on Oct. 6, he got a call from an aunt about Bradley’s latest visit to Thailand and he agreed to meet.
Bradley waited an hour for the obviously emotional reunion at the Soi Bunsamphan shop. Yupharat had been out on a call. When he returned, Bradley hugged the man who saved his life as tears flowed down his face. “I love Thailand, I love Thai people,” he said.
“I’m usually a very shy person and did not want to be on the news,” Yupharat said afterward. “But I am happy that this Irishman realizes the kindness of Thai people and had flown all the way to find the person who had helped him.”
Bradley also got a reunion with Bunlue, now 48, at the Garden Lodge in Naklua. He’d been driving home with a friend when they saw the accident. When he heard Bradley had returned, he wasn’t sure he wanted to meet.
“I was afraid because I thought he might have claimed that his belongings were missing (nine years ago),” Bunlue said. “I called the police station first to find out why he was here.”
When he learned that Bradley simply wanted to thank him, he came to the station. He said he never expected, then or now, to receive any sort of reward.
Bradley took both men to dinner at the Mum Aroi restaurant.