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That was 2015! Looking back at the best-read stories of last year

PHUKET: As 2016 ushers in a new dawn under the guise of Thailand entering the Asean Economic Community, better known simply as the AEC, and some cleaner beaches, The Phuket News takes a look back at the biggest news stories of 2015.

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By The Phuket News

Friday 1 January 2016, 11:44AM


The year 2015 was one full calendar of news for Phuket. Image: The Phuket News / graphics

The year 2015 was one full calendar of news for Phuket. Image: The Phuket News / graphics

However, instead of editors spouting off all the stories of the past year that they believe were the most important, this year we took to heart what you – the reader – voted as most important with your clicks. Here are the most popular stories in Phuket, week by week, month by month, as determined by irrefutable web statistics. Happy New Year, Phuket!

 

January

The year started with international superstar Beyonce and other half Jay Z being caught out in their second “boo boo” within days of each other. After being pictured riding on the back of a baby elephant, Beyonce posted on her Facebook at 2:09am on January 1, “Have a safe and Happy New Year.” The irony was that the celebrity couple were photographed riding a motorbike without helmets.

Frenchman Bernard Louis Joseph Hazebrouco, 68, made a lucky escape from his burning car on Patong Hill and a sandstorm in Abu Dhabi left 500 passengers stuck in Phuket.

But that was peanuts to the two shootings and a suicide attempt that marred New Year celebrations, not to mention a mega-brawl at a worker’s camp near the airport that left seven homes razed and troops patrolling the area.

A spate of break-ins into foreigners’ homes in Pa Khlok outsold a naked British motorbike rider being deported from Cambodia and even a Czech man busking to pay for his daughter’s medical bills.

The month rounded out with Phuket Immigration accepting permanent residence applications and a frustrated beach guard lashing out at a tourist.

British tourist Christina Annesley was found dead on Koh Tao, in her bungalow on Haat Sai Ri Beach, the same beach where British tourists David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found murdered in September 2014, while police seized beach furniture in Patong

 

February

The month of love opened with police raids on massage parlours in the spirited nightlife area of Phunpol in Phuket Town, apparently in an anti-human trafficking drive, followed by Phuket’s now famous beach regulations coming into force.

Then the news took a turn for the worse, with a plane crashing into river in Taipei and 29-year-old Canadian Jon-Eric Barwise found hanged in his home in Rawai. The death of long-term phuket expat Stephen Paine also cast a shadow over the month.

Bringing some light into the news, though, were the Harry Potter monks in deep trouble and Nisit Jansomwong, the Phuket Governor at the time, slamming police for their “No Summer Dream” beach order enforcement tactics.

February ended with readers shaking off a 200-strong protest over “noise disturbance” near a Cape Panwa mosque and a 4.0 magnitude quake off Koh Yao rattlling windows in Phuket and on Phi Phi Island.

 

March

As Phuket edged toward the Ides of March the top story was a Thai court ruling that “secured” or “collective” leases were void, followed closely by five Frenchmen, believed to be part of an international skimming gang, arrested for skimming “millions” from Phuket ATMs.

The sad story of an Australian attempting suicide by slashing his own throat in a Phuket hotel room drew the the attention of thousands of readers, but the story of the month was long-term Phuket expat and boat tour operator Capt Mark Pendlebury from Western Australia being arrested for the stabbing death of Patong nightclub security staffer. Mr Pendlebury was later acquitted.

A 64-year-old French tourist shoplifting sun tan lotion from a Patong Family Mart buoyed some readers, just as beach clubs at Surin Beach were told, ‘Get out in 30 days’. Funnily enough, officials are still threatening to demolish the buildings as this edition went to print.

Meanwhile, eco-eyes turned toward Phi Phi Island, where Maya Bay’s ecological balance was reeling under the threat of massive tourist invasion.

 

April

Three dead as a tour bus crashed off Patong Hill was no laughing matter as Phuket passed April Fool’s Day, and a flight from Phuket suffering engine failure sent shivers down many readers’ spines.

Nikki Beach Club was lambasted over its ‘party’ elephant being used to entertain guests, drunk, celebrity or both, with an online campaign by animal welfare groups from all directions calling for revellers to boycott the venue. (By Septmeber, Nikki Beach Club had closed.)

A Norwegian arrested in Phuket for visa overstay and missing tigers remaining a mystery at Tiger Temple intrigued readers, until the horror story of 12-year-old Israeli girl Shani Maril becoming the sole fatality of a ferry fire that engulfed the vessel within minutes while en route from Phi Phi Island to Ao Nang in Krabi. The boat sank within two kilometres of its destination port.

The rest of the month saw readers eyeing up Phuket beach raids netting “illegal” beach umbrellas, sunbeds, and other pieces of beach furniture from Laypang and Surin Beaches on the grounds that they were “encroaching” on public areas. (Another raid two weeks ago achieved the same.)

Then eyes turned east as the superyacht of fugitive Russian billionaire Sergey Polonsky, with an estimated net worth of US$1.2 billion (B36 billion), washed ashore in Cambodia.

Closer to home, for some reason readers took an active interest in the arrest of a woman arrested in possession of a B3.2 million baht of drugs.

 

May

The darling buds of May blossomed as Phuripat Theerakulpisut, director of the Phuket Marine Office at the time, announced that the days of extortion by jet-ski operators were over and Governor Nisit Jansomwong gave a lengthy justification of the beach rules, pleading for critics to wait until the trial period was over in another month.

Then Thailand dropped in global tourism rankings and the Tiger Disco blaze hearings got underway as the Samui Provincial Court approved an outside check of DNA evidence to be presented in the Koh Tao murder trials.

A drunken motorist, 23, gained notoriety for killing three cyclists, and third earthquake in a 20-hour period rattled Phuket before the “Honda hit-and-text girl” Orachorn “Praewa” Thephasadin Na Ayudhya was officially let off the hook as court declined to lift her suspended sentence for the 2010 accident in which she crashed into a taxi van and sent it plummeting from a Bangkok elevated expressway, killing nine people. She was 16 and had no license to drive.

A Finnish man was killed crossing a Phuket road and popular Phuket teacher Geoff Goacher died suddenly while at school, while over in Patong a 54-year-old Swiss man died in a bizarre elevator accident at the five-storey Baan Paradise Hotel.

Mauled by a tiger, a temple abbot was forced to remain in hospital, while an AirAsia plane was subjected to bomb scare at Phuket Airport.

 

June

Dark days continued as 25-year-old Kuwaiti tourist Abdullah Adel Kadhbahman died in a tragic fall at the World Bungee Jump on Sai Nam Yen Rd in Patong (now closed).

Then it started to rain... and rain... Flash floods hit Patong and elsewhere across the island, and Patong Police station – not for the only time this past year – found itself inundated with floodwaters.

Then a hotel employee was gunned down in front of dozens of witnesses after drunken brawl at a bar along the west-bound stretch of Patak Rd, within 500 metres of Chalong Circle.

“Police arrived at the scene, where they found the lifeless body of the male victim face down in a pool of blood in the middle of the road and surrounded by hysterically crying relatives, and dozens of onlookers.” noted the alarming report. Thankfully, police had the shooter and an accomplice in custody by 4am that day.

Over in Patong, a police officer was transferred over nightclub brutality and gun threat claims, after a protest found its way onto Soi Bangla. The ensuing investigation found nothing untoward and the final results of the police-on-police probe disappearing into the ether.

Drawing attention to simpler matters, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha issued a monsoon storm alert for 21 provinces, including Phuket. It was a good call. The weather hit hard and Phuket spent days mopping up.

QSI International School Phuket

 

July

Dr Smith Dharmasaroja, the man who warned Thailand to prepare for disaster before the 2004 Asian Tsunami devastated the Andaman Coast, urged Phuket officials and residents to prepare for the worst in case a severe earthquake strikes.

But that didn’t rattle readers as much as the man who attempted airborne suicide on a Boeing 737 plane to Hat Yai by trying to open the door mid-flight.

An Iranian tourist drowned off Patong after ignoring no-swimming red flags and bluebottles invaded Phuket beaches, while a Cambodian cargo ship drifting without power slammed into rocks and sank at Coral Island. The Navy rescued all 10 crew and a recovery mission regathered what containers could be salvaged, but the boat was later moved and re-scuttled to serve as a dive tour attraction.

A Russian crime boss was quietly arrested at a house in Rawai, while another Russian woke from a coma only to face charges for a motorbike crash that killed his fiancée.

As work on the Sam Kong Underpass continued (and still continues), a BMW Sport Z4 found himself airborne and then landing upside down after zooming out of the Central Underpass to the south. The driver, unnamed by police as “no one else was involved in the accident” but apparently a lawyer, escaped unharmed, though his speed machine was written off a wreck.

Back on Soi Bangla, a gang of thugs threatened expat police volunteers, and inadvertently exposed the lack of police presence on Phuket’s busiest tourist street. The thugs, employees of Bangkok-based electrical engineering firm Aseafa, later had a company representation to apologise on their behalf.

 

August

Severe weather warnings, flash floods and a Swiss man becoming the fourth drowning victim in four days unsettled nerves along the west coast, while a Thai woman dying from jellyfish stings on a full moon party trip to Koh Phang Ngan unsettled tourists on the gulf – and that was before the terror bomb blast at the tourist-busy Erawan Shrine in Bangkok killed 27 people and injured at least 120.

The following day a bomb hurled from a Bangkok bridge onto the Sathorn Pier in Bangkok, another busy tourist area, exploded, but thankfully resulted in no injuries reported.

 

September

Come September, the manhunt for the Erawan bomber had begun, and police were searching far and wide for “the man in the yellow shirt” seen leaving a backpack at the scene.

Back on the island, Phuket experts were baffled by a mystery fish bite that tore a sizeable chunk from the foot of pregnant Aussie tourist Jane Neame. Professional opinions divided on whether or not it was a shark, albeit theoretically a small one, but that didn’t stop a helicopter search scouring the coast for a likely predator.

In the style of diabolical attacks that Phuket has not heard of in years, Myanmar woman Ka Ta, 22, was left grossly disfigured and in critical condition after so-called “best friend” doused her in acid in an attack on Nanai Rd in Patong. Ka Ta survived, and her attacker, Myanmar national Ta Zin Moe, 24, was arrested and charged. The motive? TaZin believed Ka Ta had something to do with TaZin being fired from her job.

As if Phuket’s reputation for violence in 2015 couldn’t get any worse, a 12-year-old boy was shot at a Phuket school. Though it was believed the bullet was a stray, the incident highlighted the pravelnce of guns in Phuket.

Rounding out the month, the government banned border visa runs, Nikki Beach Club shuttered, and stayed shuttered, without publicly announcing its formal reason for closure, and a New Zealand father and son were arrested on arrival at Phuket Airport over an outstanding Patong restaurant bill incurred during their previous holiday on the island a year earlier.

Then the haze fell. Health warnings were issued after Sumatra forest fire smog smothered Phuket, and – in an unrelated, but popular story – a Kuwaiti man was arrested with marijuana.

 

October

Police finally reveal that Adem Karadag, the first suspect arrested in the hunt for the Erawan bomber, is their prime suspect for terror blast. Karadag later confesses and the police probe spreads its web further afield as far as Turkey, while revealing a tangled web of connections to deported Uighur terror suspects back to China.

In Phuket, police arrested and deported the notorious Reyes brothers from the Philippines amid claims by the Philippine police that the pair were protected by a “Phuket drug lord”.

The Sumatra haze returned to reach critical levels and public health official warned residents and tourists to not go outside.

The haze lifted, and life returned to normal – until two young men died during a drugs arrest in Thalang, sparking the worst street violence Phuket had seen in decades as rioters vandalized cars, attacked police officers at Thalang Police Station.

Not to be sidelined by street fighting, Patong Police urged Aussie tourists to file a complaint over a vicious beating by Bangla bar bouncers. The bouncers were brought in for questioning but never charged as the tourists decided to head home instead, where they went on national television to relate their Phuket holiday experience to millions of viewers.

Phuket’s reputation took a few more dents before the month drew to a close, with the UN road-safety council declaring Thailand’s roads the “second-deadliest in world”, while Phuket remains one of the worst in Thailand for road deaths and injuries, and a 15-year-old being slain in a street shooting at the closing of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

 

November

The rape of a British tourist in the rural province of Pai sparked a bar closing-time crackdown in Phuket while the new “model beach” rules started in Patong, but the top stories took a more international flavour as Putin revealed that ISIS was funded by 40 countries, including G20 members, and a GPS signal from an iPad stolen on Koh Tao led police in Phuket to arrest electronic card skimmer suspects from Brazil and France.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry announcing plans to cut the number of foreign English tutors at government schools shook the teaching community on the island.

THAI Airways International’s future was left up in the air as the airline headed further into misery, amid ongoing cutbacks, plunging profits and a safety scandal that saw flight services terminated on several international routes due to the airline failing to pass safety assessments.

 

December

Russians in Phuket being named in a police memo as potential IS targets sent the island abuzz, while Chinese deaths by drowning took a bizarre twist as the body of 23-year-old Zhang Lin was found alone, abandoned at a depth of 11 metres near Koh Bon, off Kuraburi in Phang Nga. Her body was found by divers from a different dive tour group that she was with. The probe into that death is still pending.

The month of festive holidays started with lighten up with the discovery if a huge python, six metres long and weighing more than 20 kilos, slithering its way into view out from under a house in Samkong.

But that snake was a lightweight compared with the heavy-handed Russian ladies in Rawai who apprehended a thief attempting to steal from the women’s handbags while the women were still home. The thief suffered a plethora of bruises and a broken finger during his arrest.

Phuket’s deadly roads returned as key story drivers as the year drew to a close, with the death of British woman Rebecca Leanne Shaw, 32, killed after the motorbike she was riding was struck by a pickup truck on Patong Hill.

Less than two weeks later, British tourist Elizabeth Corrigan died after falling off a moving tuk tuk in Kamala after a night out in Patong.

One British tourist who is safe, despite his alarming call home to tell his parents that they “might never see him again”, is Jordan Jacobs, found alive and well on Phi Phi Island. He says his parents “overreacted” to his message.

But as this edition went to print, 2015 had yet to end and the Phuket news machine was trundling along, with a new Accident & Emergency centre opening in Chalong – the first in the south of the island – an investigation into an Army colonel allegedly threatening a Navy officer over a gambling raid and the threat of demolishing the beach front buildings at Surin still looming into yet another new year.

Of course many other stories – even critical updates, such as the ongoing delays to the Sam Kong Underpass – failed to make this year’s top stories, but the selection above is only the top stories by the numbers. These are the biggest stories that readers chose to view online, by the numbers.

It seems Phuket is never short of news, and may that continue into 2016 – though The Phuket News team is looking forward to hopefully a safer, less tragic, new year.

 

 

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