The internationally respected yachtsman, master shipwright, naval architect and expert in composites was riding his motorbike towards Rawai from the party at Kata Beach Resort when he was attacked at about 1 am on the Kata Noi – Viewpoint road.
Mr Petford crashed after trying to avoid two men twirling “samurai swords”, and was then knocked off his bike. Thieves took the keys from his motorcycle and his wallet, which contained B5,000 in cash, a Malaysian 50-ringgit note, credit cards, and other documents. He was injured in the crash, and is now booked in for a CT scan.
Mr Petford, 59, from New Zealand by way of Australia, was acting as shore crew for one of the leading racing yachts in this year’s regatta. He arrived for the closing party at about 11.30 pm.
“The food and drinks were already over,” he said, explaining that he had been on the press boat during the final race and was thereafter occupied with event-related business till late. “The party was closing down when I got there.”
He had come that morning from Chalong on his motorbike, a 100-cc Suzuki. “I normally don’t go anywhere at night on a motorcycle,” he said, adding that he was ready to leave it at Kata when a group of friends talked of hiring a tuk-tuk to take them back.
But the group dispersed before the taxi was called. Mr Petford, wary of traffic on the busy Kata-Chalong road, elected to take the route less travelled over the mountains from Kata Noi to Rawai.
That road twists and turns, and declines steeply before debouching on to the flatlands not far from Icon, a popular discotheque just off Sai Yuan Rd.
“I was thinking the place was safe,” he said. “I’d done it during the day so I felt okay. I’m a safe driver, I don’t ride too fast, but I was probably riding too slow.”
He was on the steep descent, just past two elephant camps, about half-a-kilometre from the bottom, when two men twirling “samurai swords” stepped from cover on either side of the road.
“Big shiny swords – I saw ‘em in my headlights and thought, obviously, ‘Danger! Danger!’ So I put down my head and accelerated.”
Mr Petford swept past the swordsmen, then slowed down, thinking, “What the f--k? That was close.” He drove on another hundred metres or so, imagining himself to be out of danger.
“I saw nothing in my mirrors, no guys, nothing behind me, then suddenly I was hit from the right-hand rear by a motorcycle, maybe kicked.” He said the attackers had been following him with their headlights off.
Mr Petford’s bike went down hard. He was travelling, he thinks, “maybe 40 kilometres per hour” and appears to have lost consciousness, though he was wearing a crash helmet.
When he came to, he says, “They were gone. I realised I was on the ground, hurt.”
The thieves had taken the keys from his motorcycle and his wallet, which contained B5,000 in cash, a Malaysian 50-ringgit note, credit cards, and other documents.
“I picked the bike up, thinking they might come back, then coasted to the bottom of the hill, the wheel wobbling because it was damaged.”
He stopped and “checked for damage to myself.” His elbow bone was exposed, his ribs and collar bone bruised, his knee badly hurt, all on his right side.
He stood “for five-to-ten minutes” wondering how to proceed “when a girl came round the corner on her motorbike, saw me bleeding and stopped to see what happened. She straight away called police on her phone and waited till they got there.”
Though not in the least inebriated, Petford’s recollections are somewhat hazy; “They were clearing up when I got to the party – there was nothing to drink, so I wasn’t drunk.” But he was injured in the spill, and was probably suffering a concussion.
When police arrived, they then drove to Chalong station where a report was filed at 3.45 am, indicating the passing of a considerable amount of time between the attack and his regaining consciousness.
Pol Capt Chianrachai Duangsuwan logged Mr Petford’s statement to police, which differs from the version reported here. Mr Petford said communication with officers was difficult, and there was no translator present during questioning.
The official report states that Mr Petford was attacked on Patak Rd by a single man, 25-30 years old, “about five feet tall,” “wearing a helmet the victim does not know the colour of,” and armed with a Samurai sword, who followed him by motorcycle and “pushed him over.”
Mr Petford, believes he was attacked by a gang probably of four men and recalls nothing of helmets. Even the road is named wrong in the police report – though officers themselves picked up Petford at the scene.
After questioning, the police offered to escort him to his bungalow near Chalong Pier – rather than to hospital – but Mr Petford declined and walked home, where he bound his wounds, unable to go for treatment till the following day.
He has since had to go every day, and a CT scan is scheduled – costs for all of which he must bear.
He was later contacted by a Thai-speaking foreign Tourist Police assistant, who brought two plain-clothes Chalong detectives. With the help of a translator, that interview went more smoothly.
The detectives apologised profusely for what happened, took him to the scene of the crime, snapped some photos – but since then, nothing.
They gave him no amended police report and he has had, as of this writing, no update on his case. As neither officer presented his card, Mr Petford doesn’t know their names.
Three days later, two Russian tourists walking near the elephant camps spotted his wallet, all his credit cards, the 50-ringgit note, and identification still inside, but minus the 5,000 baht in cash.
Mr Petford’s membership card in the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club supplied a clue for contacting the owner, and that night they restored it to him.
Mr Petford, who has built many boats and served as construction consultant for the famous Sidney-Hobart race winner Wild Oats, is philosophical about what happened.
“I didn’t know it wasn’t safe to go that way,” he said, “or I wouldn’t have gone.”
He seems to worry more about the image of Phuket than his own well-being: “I don’t want news of what happened to me to have a bad effect on tourism.”
Attacks similar to the one on Mr Petford have happened repeatedly in Rawai, some in the same area as the one on him.
A pair of youths arrested after a recent attack said they targeted foreigners because “they can never remember our faces.”