October 2007 - 8 Drown In Thai Cave

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This is a summary of the Thai cave drownings based on reporting in the Bangkok Post and Nation newspapers. On Saturday 13 October 2007 a group of eight tourists with two local Thai guides took a boat from the Ratchaprpaha Dam to go on a tour of Tham Nam Thalu in the Khao Sok National Park, Surat Thani province in southern Thailand. There had been three hours of heavy rain and the guides had received warnings from locals and park rangers not to enter the cave. Nine of the group (a German lady stayed outside) entered the cave at about midday. Tham Nam Thalu is a 750m long through cave that is a popular tourist trip in the National Park. It is a wild cave without walkways or lighting. The trip is usually done in the downstream direction. Halfway through the trip a flash flood swept through the cave. The water depth is reported to have increased from 50 cm to 10 m. A British couple managed to climb up onto a ledge, but the others were quickly dragged away by the force of the water. After sometime stuck on the ledge the British man decided to try to swim with the current. be washed out of the cave and fetch rescue, but he was also drowned. A rescue was underway that night, but although bodies were recovered before dawn (probably from outside the resurgence) the cave wasn't entered before the next morning when the sole survivor, a British woman, was recovered from the high ledge. The dead were named as Swiss nationals Beano Fischer (49), Rose-Marie Schmidt-Stadler (48), Andrea Fischer (17) and Sarah Fischer (15), German national Eddie Gaempe (10), British national John Cullen (24) and Thai nationals Kitsak Pratum (30) and Sahachai Boonkong (25). The British woman rescued from the cave was Helena Carroll (21) while Eddie Gaempe's mother, Ines Gaempe (37) had not gone into the cave. The cave was supposed to be closed during the rainy season and the province governor had ordered the closure. There are also warning signs in Thai and English outside the cave warning about the danger from flooding. In the aftermath of this tragedy there was the usual reaction from officials in Bangkok that something must be done. Local National Park head rangers were given authorisation to close their parks if necessary for tourist safety and six parks in Surat Thani were closed. There is talk of installing more signs and perhaps gating the cave, though signs have been proven to be ineffective at keeping people out of dangerous areas if the tour guides are going to ignore them. There would also be more practice rescues in Khao Sok park. The Tourism Authority of Thailand suspended its nature tours in National Parks. However, the Surat Thani Tour Guides Association opposed the decision to close all the parks and suggested that only high risk areas and activities were prohibited. However, I don't expect anything constructive to be done and that next October it will still be possible to get a tour into Tham Nam Thalu. After the drownings on the Saturday the lead story in the following Thursday's travel section in the Bangkok Post was called "Cave Adventure" about visiting caves in a National Park in Khon Kaen province.