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Phuket beach safety plunges as surfer rescues ‘safety official’

PHUKET: A local surfer at Phuket’s Nai Harn Beach was forced to come to the rescue yesterday (Oct 17) to safely bringing back to shore a Chinese tourist in distress and the local official tasked as part of the “emergency beach safety team” who was trying to rescue him.

By The Phuket News

Wednesday 18 October 2017, 12:39PM

The surfer, who The Phuket News has so far only been able to confirm calls himself “Rick” *, paddled out with a friend to carry out the rescues after noticing the two in trouble about 100 metres from shore at about midday, former Nai Harn chief lifeguard Jula Nontree confirmed.

The beach safety official had taken a lifeguard rescue paddle board out to assist the Chinese tourist, but was unable to carry out the rescue once reaching the tourist, with both the Chinese man and the official struggling to clamber onto the paddle board.

“The official is from Rawai Municipality. He told me that he had no idea what to do once he got to the tourist,” Mr Jula said.

“He had the paddle board, but didn’t know what to do once he was out there,” he added.

The official rescued yesterday was among those from Rawai Municipality assigned to help provide beach safety at Nai Harn following amid Phuket’s current lifeguard crisis. (See story here.)

Mr Jula today confirmed that there are no paid lifeguards at Nai Harn Beach, despite claims by Rawai Mayor Aroon Solos on Oct 5 that the same lifeguards who previously patrolled Nai Harn and Yanui beaches had been hired to continue their patrols, but paid directly by Rawai Municipality and not the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor). (See story here.)

However, Mayor Aroon Solos on Oct 6 did make it clear his stance on Phuket’s lifeguard crisis: “We need real lifeguards, not non-experienced people working as lifeguards,” he said. (See story here.)

Meanwhile further north at Surin Beach, former professional and qualified volunteer lifeguards from the Surin-Bangtao Surf Lifesaving Club – who are continuing to provide their essential life-saving skills free of charge while they can still afford to out of their own pockets – have rescued 10 victims, including a young boy, in the past three days.

The Surin Beach lifeguards last week posted a “Double Red Flag Warning - Do Not Enter Water” notice to warn beachgoers of the dangerous surf conditions along Phuket’s west coast. (See story here).

The dangerous surf, and the “flash rips” that drag swimmers out to sea, are still endangering swimmers and are likely to continue for at least the next few days, lifeguards told The Phuket News this morning.

“Right now Phuket is experiencing the full brunt of the Phuket cocktail, and these conditions are predicted to continue over the next three to five days according to Magic Seaweed, a surf and weather forecast website,” one veteran lifeguard at Surin Beach explained.

The “Phuket cocktail” refers to the killer flash rip conditions as named by local surfer and water safety pioneer Steve Martin in a Prince of Songkhla University study called “The Surfer-Lifesavers of Phuket” conducted seven years ago.

“The flash rip is the Phuket cocktail, a deadly mixture of short-period and long-period wave activity unique to the region. This translates to what we see at our Phuket beaches: one minute the swimmer/tourist is standing in waist-deep water, marvelling in the moment at the beauty of Phuket; the next minute they are swept off their feet and carried out to sea,” Mr Martin wrote in his report.

Surin Beach lifeguards have already highlighted that despite the good intentions among local officials and even bystanders and other tourists to help rescue people in danger, lack of training in coping with flash rips only endangers those who are trying to help.

Splash Beach Club

“Every time an untrained bystander attempts a rescue, they face a high risk of drowning themselves,” advised professional lifeguard Sayan Bureerak, who has been the Surin Beach Lifeguard Captain for seven years. He is also the de-facto supervisor of the volunteer lifeguard team at Surin Beach.

“Even though many swimmers got into trouble today, our trained lifeguards rescued them all. Nobody died today. Our goal is zero drownings at Surin Beach,” Mr Sayan said.

A study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education explains how bystander rescuers often wind up drowning themselves, while the initial victim survives.

The study, Readiness to Rescue: Bystander Perceptions of Their Capacity to Respond in a Drowning Emergency concludes that, “despite a desire to respond in a rescuer role, many participants may lack the physical competency and knowledge to engage in safe rescue activity.”

“It has been extremely fortunate so far that none of these Good Samaritans have lost their own lives while trying to help others. According to the statistics, however, Phuket’s luck may already be stretched very thin,” another veteran lifeguard told The Phuket News today.

“Will cases of bystander rescuers drowning themselves become Phuket’s ‘new normal’? Tourists on holiday to Phuket should not be placed in this position. It will lead to tragedy,” he added.

The current beach safety situation in Phuket follows a spate of surf rescues over the weekend, mostly by volunteers, tourists or bystanders, with foreigner beachgoers rescuing three Russian men from drowning at Nai Thon Beach on Saturday (Oct 14). (See story here.)

The Phuket News was informed this morning that another Good Samaritan saw a 32-year-old Russian man rescued from the water in front at Kata Beach on Sunday.

“No one wanted to help him and my friend who was jogging past swam in to drag him out,” one witness told The Phuket News.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of all people on Phuket beaches over the weekend, 42-year-old Russian tourist Oleg Parshukov die after he was pulled from the surf at Karon Beach on Sunday (Oct 15). (See story here.)


 * The surfer involved in the recue has contacted The Phuket News to confirm that his name is Rick, a 53-yeald old Australian national. Not Max, as was previously reported.




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Kurt | 19 October 2017 - 11:15:55

Can you imagine? Present and future Phuket beach tourists have to read that a local surfer has to rescue a tourist and a 'rescue official' who has no clue how to rescue.

I am sure that beach now has one 'rescue official' lesser.

Choose: Laugh or cry.

BenPendejo | 18 October 2017 - 23:03:50

People in foreign countries wouldn't believe how stupid Thai officials are being in regards to the lifeguard situation.  The last couple days have had prime drowning conditions...and I saw the guy at Surin today.  If the unpaid volunteers wouldn't have acted, the guy would not have made it.  Shame shame shame on Thai officials responsible for this...and why is the Governor silent on this i...

marcher | 18 October 2017 - 21:44:37

Complete chaos. but then this is Thailand

Christy Sweet | 18 October 2017 - 15:38:57

North Bang Tao's Sirinart National Marine Park  remains very safe to swim in all year round. Just too bad about the stench of raw sewage and brown frothy goo- and garbage encrusted sand with filthy dogs urinating on any belongings left on the sand, and the throbbing bass music from the beach club, and the....etc., etc., etc.. 

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