NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Fiery Phuket plane crash kills 91

Half a million sandbags at the ready

Pot tours not welcomed in Pai

Rangers clash with drug traffickers

Samurai motorcycle gang resurfaces

Construction halted on convention center

Billboards under scrutiny

CMU faculty and students build surveillance drones

Small plane crashes into housing estate

 

Fiery Phuket plane crash kills 91

Survivors of a plane crash Sunday in which 91 people died described scenes of passengers on fire and leaping from exits to save themselves.
One-Two-Go Airlines flight OG269 was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew members to Phuket from Bangkok, said Monrudee Gettuphan, spokeswoman for Airports of Thailand. There were 78 foreigners on board, 55 of them perished she said.
The deputy governor of Phuket province, Worapot Ratthaseema, said the dead included French, German, Israeli, Australian and British nationals. Their names have not released.
It was not immediately clear how many foreigners had died, he said. However, Thailand’s Public Health and Interior Ministries issued lists of almost 30 foreign survivors.
Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was attempting to land in driving wind and rain but skidded off the runway, ran though a low retaining wall and broke into two parts. Survivors said they escaped from emergency exits as the plane caught fire.
About 60 bodies were retrieved quickly, but it took hours to get the other bodies out. Three bodies remained in the wreckage about nine hours after the accident, said Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um.
Survivors said the plane landed hard and out of control.
“Our plane was landing, you can tell it was in trouble, because it kind of landed then came up again the second time,” said John Gerard O’Donnell of Ireland, speaking from his hospital bed.
“I came out on the wing of the plane ... the exit door, it was kind of crushed and I had to squeeze through. And saw my friend, he was outside. He just got out before me. And next thing, it really caught fire, then I just got badly burned, my face, my legs, my arms.”
Piyanooch Ananpakdee, a coordinator at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, where 30 of the survivors were taken, said they told her passengers had stepped on each other as they tried to flee the aircraft as it filled with black smoke.
Many of those injured had broken legs and similar injuries from jumping from the burning plane, she said.
Officials said it was too early to establish the cause of the crash, but some said the weather was likely a factor.
“The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around (make another landing attempt) but the plane lost balance and crashed,” said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand. “It was torn into two parts.”
Regardless of the cause, the accident was likely to raise fresh questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have burgeoned in the past few years. None of Thailand’s budget airlines, including One-Two-Go, had previously suffered a major accident, but there have been several calamitous crashes in Indonesia.
Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines. According to Thai and U.S. aviation registration data, the plane that crashed in Phuket was manufactured and first put into service in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March this year.
“As soon as we hit, everything went dark and everything fell,” said Mildred Furlong, 23, a waitress from Prince George, British Columbia, in Canada. The plane started filling with smoke and fires broke out, she said. A passenger in front of her caught fire, while one in the back kicked out a plane window.
“I saw passengers engulfed in fire as I stepped over them on the way out of the plane,” Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said on The Nation TV channel. “I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away.”
Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runway. Searchers in masks converged on the plane, carrying bodies wrapped in white sheets to an airport storage building.
Dr. Charnsilp Wacharajira, who carried out autopsies on some of those killed, said they died of traumatic injuries to the head, indicating that the impact of the crash rather than the fire killed them.
Piyanooch said there were five people in critical condition at her hospital, including a British woman with burns over 60 percent of her body and another person with broken ribs.
One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003 and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand.
Family members seeking information from the airline can contact the One-Two-Go hotline at 1126 or dial 076-351144 or 076-351166. AP

 

Half a million sandbags at the ready

City prepares for floods

Maj. Gen. Natchapat Somboonsri, the commander of the 33rd Army, Kawila Camp, monitors his soldiers as they fill and place sandbags along the Ping riverbank.

By Saksit Meesubkwang
Soldiers from the Kawila Army Camp have been busy filling half a million sandbags as the city prepares for flooding along the Ping River.
Several flood-sensitive areas targeted include the Kawila Army Camp, Prao Nok village (opposite to the 5th Provincial Police Bureau) and the Montfort and Regina Schools, all of them situated along the Ping riverbank.
Maj. Gen. Natchapat Somboonsri, the Commander of the 33rd Army, Kawila Camp, stated that even though there were no signs of flooding, the camp’s 100 soldiers had prepared the sandbags in advance in preparation for any eventual floods.
Careful consideration has been given as to where to store the sandbags so as not to ruin the image of the city added the Commander of the Army.
Residents who desire to have a flood wall in front of their properties can contact the Kawila Camp for service. The sandbags will be delivered to those who have asked for the service free of charge. “Four thousand soldiers are on hand to relieve any unexpected flooding, provide rescue and service to victims in Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son,” explained the Commander.


Pot tours not welcomed in Pai

Saksit Meesubkwang
Col. Nopporn Ruenchan, Commander of the 7th Infantry Regiment Taskforce in Mae Hong Son met with Pai tour guides to warn them not to provide “drug tours” to visiting foreigners.

Col. Nopporn Ruenchan, commander of the 7th Infantry Regiment Taskforce, Mae Hong Son together with 120 soldiers, police and administrative officers destroying the discovered pot farm at Ban Wai village near Pai.
Tourists visiting the scenic town of Pai have apparently been requesting more than just an average tour of hilltribe villages.
According to the Office of the Narcotic Control Board visitors have been touring the hilltribe villages for the purpose of purchasing and consuming marijuana which has proliferated in the area.
Last week the Commander and his troops discovered a 1200 plant marijuana plantation in Ban Wai village. The troops chopped down the illegal crop and then burned the 1400 kilo seizure.
Pai police officers have noticed that tourists have been returning from these “pot tours” carrying stashes but the source of the marijuana was difficult to confirm.
As police investigations surfaced it was quickly determined that marijuana was being grown in several villages hidden amongst the farmers vegetable and rice fields.
Meanwhile the Commander warned all Pai tour guides to present only positive attractions such as the natural beauty and hilltribe life styles instead of introducing them to drug activities. “Drug tours are not a sustainable program when compared with natural attractions,” said Col. Nopporn.


Rangers clash with drug traffickers

Khajohn Boonpath
A drug suppression unit of the Border Rangers was involved in a skirmish with a drugs caravan that had illicitly entered from Myanmar which resulted in the death of one of the traffickers. Following the gun battle an additional support division was sent in fearing that the enemy would seek revenge.
The Rangers from Mae Sarieng, Mae Hong Son led by Officer Prayoon Sukhampee and 11 men went out on patrol around Huay Mae Po along the Thai-Myanmar border when they came across a group of 10 men transporting drugs.
The confrontation led to a 20 minute gun battle before the traffickers retreated.
When the group retreated, the officers moved in to clear the area and found one dead and an M16 rifle made in Singapore which are used among the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. A quantity of ammunition was also found.
Gen. Bunyuen Inkwang, Commander of the Border Patrol Police Division 36 Mae Sarieng said a group of Wa tribesmen found out that drugs were going to be smuggled into the country through the said area, so he ordered the drug suppression unit to patrol the area and attack the smugglers.


Samurai motorcycle gang resurfaces

Gang leader still at large

A 21 year old man was viciously stabbed with a Samurai sword wielding group of motorcyclists in Sankhampheang leaving him seriously wounded.
The attack occurred in front of the Esso gas station on Sankhampheang - Chiang Mai Road on September 7th.
The victim’s mother filed a police report which initiated an investigation that led to the arrest of one of the alleged gang members.
The infamous Samurai gang terrorized residents of Chiang Mai years ago as they drove through the streets stabbing drivers and pedestrians with Samurai swords.
Police were finally able to crackdown on the gang and it was disbanded.
This copycat group apparently has many members and the gang leader, only known as
“Saek Sankhampheang” is still at large according to the police.
Police arrested 19 year old Vach or Olin Panyarat who admitted that he had been involved in attacking other gang members with Samurai swords on numerous occasions and couldn’t remember the number of times or places.
According to Pol. Lt. Col. Vitoon Voravil, police are still looking for many members of Vach’s group and after his arrest the authorities now know the identities of all of them. Reported by Thai News


Construction halted on convention center

It’s back to square one for the construction of Chiang Mai’s convention center because the Auditor General of Thailand (AGT) wants the project to be put through a bidding process for the design and building contractors again, using the government agency’s format this time for greater transparency.
Tourism minister, Dr Suvit Yodmani, said the AGT raised concerns over the e-auction process for not being transparent enough, even though it is what state enterprises practice.
The project is also facing a budget setback. Although an initial 400 million baht (US $12 million) was approved last year for the first phase of the construction, some 160 million was spent on a TAT stimulus tourism campaign for this year’s low season. The entire project will cost 1.9 billion baht and take around two years to build.
Dr Suvit, who in July announced the construction would start by the end of this year, said: “I can’t confirm now if the construction will start by then. But I personally believe it will eventually be built given the fact that the Chiang Mai travel trade has wanted it for more than 15 years.” TTG


Billboards under scrutiny

Madame Mayor begins beautifying campaign

Saksit Meesubkwang
Of the 140 or so billboards that have sprouted around the city only 79 are legally registered. The legal signs have generated tax revenues of 18 million baht a year for the city according to municipal tax records.
The Mayor of Chiang Mai Mayor Dr. Duentemduang Na Chiang Mai believes the eyesores are not worth the money and the billboards are spoiling the image of the city and are safety hazards as many tend to collapse during wind gusts.
“A significant number of tourists have raised their complaints against these billboards and many are not registered as required by law,” said the Mayor.
She met with business owners to discuss ways to control the proliferation of illegal signs and has taken steps to remove all illegally posted ones by the end of this month.
The Mayor further announced that no permanent private-owned billboards or signs will be allowed within any public and municipal areas.
All illegal billboards will be removed by September 30th.
Those companies who have signed long term contracts with the city will be exempt from removing their billboards but must do so once their terms expire.
The Municipality will no longer issue new permits or extensions for billboards.


CMU faculty and students build surveillance drones

Proud teachers and students check out the CMU-1 surveillance drone built at Chiang Mai University.

The Faculty of Engineering at Chiang Mai University has built two air surveillance drones, the CMU-1 and CMU-2 to promote security and safety activities around the northernmost border regions and tourist attractions.
The drones have been designed to remain airborne for long periods and transmit data over GPS satellites.
The air surveillance drones project is the work of Prof. Dr. Samphan Chaiyathaep of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. He received sponsorship for the project from the State Budget 2005-2007 for the Air Surveillance Drones to fund the work.
The drones are able to transmit data and point locations and can also be remotely controlled from long distances. They can also be used as early warning systems, suppression activities and ease social disasters. Additionally, they can also be used to further security activities, especially in the Northern provinces.
So far the project has managed to build two drones, CMU-1 and CMU-2 while X-CMU-3 and 4 are presently being developed and will be tested at a later date.
The remote control and data transmission systems use GPS (Global Positioning Satellites). The system is able to transmit data over a distance of 1,000 meters in open areas. The GPS shows position, speed and route of the drones on a monitor. The drones also employ emergency remote control systems and long distance automatic flying.
The engine and drive has been developed and modified from a four cylinder engine and consumes gasoline and uses a Pulse Jet system for greater efficiency.
The system has been shown at three training courses attended by 200 people comprising secondary school students, mechanical engineering students and government air surveillance organizations. Others who have shown interest in participating in the research and development include the 41 Flight Command, Rachapat University and Rachamonkol Lanna University.


Small plane crashes into housing estate

Two foreigners injured

A mangled mess as this single engine rented plane crashed into a housing estate in Lamphun. Two on board were seriously injured and remain hospitalized.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A small single engine plane on a sightseeing tour crashed into the gardens of a home in the Sirinakorn Housing Estate in Lamphun severely injuring the pilot and the passenger in the front seat. The two other passengers in the back row escaped unharmed.
The crash occurred on September 12th at 4pm according to the police.
The single engine plane belonged to the Saha Group and had been rented by the group of foreigners for an aerial tour of Lamphun.
The pilot, Christopher Newman, 63, from England and the other injured passenger from Belgium who name is unknown were rushed to Rajavej Hospital.
The other two passengers also from Belgium did not require medical attention.
The plane had been flying for 20 minutes when trouble began according to the initial accident reports. The pilot attempted to lower the altitude of the plane but the controls failed to function properly.
The plane crashed into a tree in the garden belonging to Pichai Sinthuchat, 52, who is the owner of the Yaowarat gold shop in Lamphun. He was not at home at the time of the crash.
At press time both injured passengers were still being treated at Rajavej Hospital.
The cause of the plane crash is still under investigation.