Phuket reunion – British siblings reunited with their tsunami helper


Phuket/Bangkok, 5 August, 2014 – Visitors to Thailand have long been impressed by the friendliness of the local people and their welcoming attitude to travellers. But one British family has more reasons to thank their Thai hosts than many.

With the help of Facebook, Ben and Emily Willgrass have tracked down the Thai couple who aided them in their darkest hour, during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and have been reunited with their helper for the first time after 10 years on 3 August, 2014, in a touching moment filled with tears and joy.

Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said. “The tsunami of 2004 was one of the tragic episodes in Thailand’s recent history. Thais and visitors alike were affected as waves damaged property, destroyed livelihoods and worst of all, took away loved ones in the most tragic of circumstances. The Willgrass family was one of the many impacted, but now their story at least has a touching element that will forever link them with the people of Thailand.”

“While of course, this is a private reunion between two families, we feel that this story encapsulates something that most visitors to Thailand experience, the true friendliness of the Thai people who make tourists feel so welcome.”

Ben and Emily were on a family holiday with their parents, Nigel and Louise, as well as their other sister and brother, Michael and Kate, when the tsunami struck the west coast of Phuket on 26 December, 2004.

Tragically, Louise was killed by the wave but Nigel and his children (then aged from 7 to 16) were able to cling to nearby debris and float to safety. While Nigel tried to find his wife, a local Phuket couple, Pitchet and Yupin Sengmuang looked after and comforted the four children. When the news came that Louise was one of the over 5,000 victims of the tsunami in Thailand, Mrs. Yupin and her husband drove the grieving family the 830 km to Bangkok’s international airport to fly back home.

Since that sad day, the children have often thought about their benefactors whom they only remembered by their first names, “Yupin” and “Pitchet”. So the oldest siblings, Emily (26) and Ben (now 24) and decided to track them down via social media.

Only 15 hours after the story was posted on Facebook, the Sengmuangs were identified. One of Pitchet’s relatives saw the story circulating online and contacted Khao Sod newspaper which ran a story on the search. The Phuket News then contacted the Willgrass family and put them in touch with Yupin.

Mr. Thawatchai added “We wish the Willgrass family all the best and are delighted that they managed to find Yupin and Pichet (the couple now divorced with Pichet reportedly moved to Phattalung). This story shows that in times of tragedy, people of any background can pull together and help each other out as fellow humans.”

Contact information

International Public Relations Division

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Tel: +66 (0) 2250 5500 ext. 4545-48

Fax: +66 (0) 2253 7419

E-mail: [email protected]


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