Mr Prathaiyuth started experiencing chest pains while dropping off his 16-year-old daughter at Satree Phuket School this morning, former Nai Harn chief lifeguard Jula Nontree explained to The Phuket News.
He drove himself directly to Vachira Phuket Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead from cardiac arrest, Mr Jula explained.
Mr Prathaiyuth died at about 9am, Mr Jula said.
He was 57 years old*.
Working with Australians David Field and Jayne MacDougall, Mr Prathaiyuth drove to improve the skills of the handful of volunteer lifeguards Phuket had some 20 years ago through training sessions from professional lifesavers visiting from Australia.
The lifeguard training programme blossomed, inspiring many local Thai “beach boys” to join their ranks to help save lives – mostly of tourists – in Phuket’s dangerous low season surf.
Mr Prathaiyuth and with his wife Witanya for years together operated Phuket Lifeguards Service Co Ltd, which provided lifeguards all along Phuket’s west coast under a government concession offered through the Phuket Provincial Administration Organsisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor).
The arrangement ended in Sept 2017 after Mr Prathaiyuth on behalf of the PLS refused to accept the terms offered by the PPAO, which for the third consecutive year had refused to increase the budget to be provided in order to provide qualified, experienced lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches.
The salaries to be paid to lifeguards was not commensurate with them risking their lives, and the budget provided would not allow for the modern, functioning equipment needed by lifeguards to carry out rescues. Instead, the lack of proper equipment would only endanger the lives of the lifeguards themselves, Mr Prathaiyuth explained.
With no other operators willing to take up the role of providing lifeguards under the contract offered, Phuket’s system of lifeguard protection at the beaches fell into disarray.
The Phuket Governor at the time, Norraphat Plodthong, over-ordered the stance by PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Pathomwattanapong and mandated that all local municipalities and administrations organise lifeguard patrols for beaches in their own respective areas. (See story here.)
Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup wasted no time in making sure that Mr Prathaiyuth and his team of qualified, trained lifeguards were hired to ensure lifeguard patrols on Phuket’s busiest tourist beach, Patong.
Mr Prathaiyuth leaves Phuket not just with a legacy of our essential lifesaving beach guards, but also of a long-standing programme of teaching children essential surf survival skills and lifesaving techniques, including basic CPR.
As recently as last week Mr Prathaiyuth led a junior surf lifesaving course, and earlier this month led yet another lifeguard training intensive to ensure their skills were honed and up to date.
Volunteers were, and remain, always welcome.
Daren Jenner, the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) Marine Safety Officer for Phuket, expressed his sincerest condolences to Mr Prathaiyuth’s friends and family.
“I had many good conversations with him over the years. He was a good-hearted man who did his best in difficult and changing circumstances,” Mr Jenner said.
“A very big loss for Phuket and the lifesaving community here. ISLA sends our deepest respect for his long commitment to ocean safety in SE Asia.”
* Correction: Not 53 years old, as The Phuket News was informed by hospital staff.