Dive Aid

Khao Lak Tragedy. What We Went Through

Last Updated: 31-Dec-2004, Keith Angles

Well what a week that was!

Last day of the year and I'm just thankful that I can write to you all and wish you a happy new year for the one to come from both Sara and myself.

I know that many of you have very few details of what occurred on that day as the media coverage though extensive has been somewhat biased and ill informed of the true events that transpired. Unfortunatly we were there to witness the full horror and effect of an 8mtr plus high wave hitting the coastal tourist town of Khao Lak and its surrounding area.

Many of you know the people that live and work in this area some of you on my mail list do not but be assured the people involved in this story are true friends and loved ones of Sara and I. It is not my intension to give a blow by blow account of what happend to these individuals but to give you all some idea of what we went through and some of the acts of heroism that were performed whether they be large or small by those involved.

I was at my house on the high ground when Joakim came up on his bike in a frantic state to inform me that a huge flood had wiped out the beach front taking with it everything in its path. I spent the next three hours amongst the debris and wreckage pulling out survivors with the help of locals and uninjured tourists. We used motorbikes and our pickup truck to transport people to the high ground on the view point which was to become one of many meeting and medical points set up along the coast.

We had several warnings that another wave was going to hit and so had to abandon the search for fear of becoming victims of the elements ourselves.

Joakim had already left the area in search of his family (Sue and the children) in the neighbouring town of Khuk Khak which had also been decamated. From what I know along the way he met Merete, Karin and Steffi and having had to abandon the truck set off on foot.

I was at the cross road leading down to the beach writing signs to direct people to the meeting point when the girls arrived in the car closely followed by Video Klaus and Jim from Coral Grand. They all lived in Bang Niang, probably the worst hit of all as it sits on low ground. They told of how they had either swam, grabbed onto trees or climbed onto roof tops to avoid being drowned or smashed against trees and debris by the force of the water as it first swept inland and then pulled back out toward the ocean. I learnt that Jo Dixie and all but one of Klaus' friends where together and uninjured. The boys where going back to Coral Grand to set up a medical point there whilst the girls would accompany me to the hillside and try and gather supplys to aid in the first aid operation. Karin was particularly upset as she had leapt from her bedroom with Paul and had been seperated from him and had not seen him since. Whilst we where discussing our plan of attack Fred from Big Blue arrived and offered to join our team.

The next problem we faced was getting supplies. All the shops, doctors and pharmacies had locked and shuttered their premises denying us acsess to much need medical goods, food and water. We took the car to my house where fortunatly I had a fairly good first aid kit and filled bags with clothes from Sara and my wardrobe to clothe the injured victims. Wat, the shop owner at the bottom of my road gave me his first aid kit and barrels of drinking water to take with us and we set of up the hill.

The view point itself was set on four levels with bungalows in varying states of completion on each. On the first was the car park and several tents used to store building supplies. This is where someone from Sea Dragon had started to set up a name taking station to try and get a list of present and missing people. Over the next 3 days the staff at Sea Dragon did an amazing job of collecting data and trying to reunite families. Having seen these lists with hundreds of names on the missing list I think that this must have been one of the toughest and most depressing job to be done.

On the second tier where some of the worst casualties. A boy with a punctured lung, a lady with a missing foot, people with massive head and body injuries. From what I know there was a local doctor there who was helping to treat them and many of them were although in pain stable if not comfortable.

We based ourselves on the third rampart where there was the most concentration of people. Earlier in the day I had broken into several bungalows and stolen a rucsac and filled it with sheets, towels, pillows and anything I thought might be usefull. Probably the three most useful things I collected was some lipstick with which I wrote out the signs, a manicure set which contained scissors and tweezers and two packets of fags.

We didn't need to advertise what we where doing because after we had treated Karin for a head and foot wound we soon had a steady stream of casualties awaiting treatment. Merete found a local nurse and went off in the car to gain access to more supplies whist Fred and I based ourselves here for the next six hours trying to treat people that we knew would not have the opportunity to get to a hospital for at least 24hrs. Throughout the day other members of the dive community would turn up and offer more gauze, tape and water. We used all the linen I had collected to make crude bandages.

At around 1730 a figure staggered through the crowd wearing skin tight trousers and an extra small crop top which showed an extensive hairy naval.

It was Paul. He was alive if not to well. We embraced each other and both began to weep. All the mental anguish that we had been forcing to the back of our minds, the thoughts of our loved ones that where missing he for Karin and I for Sara who was somewhere out at sea, came flooding out.

Paul's story is something quite exceptional and I'm sure he will tell it in his own time. He had swam for over a kilometer and having pulled himself from the water then began to do the same for others. He ended up in a clearing in the jungle with some hundred or so others most of whom had horrific injuries. To many of those people died from there wounds or where alredy dead before Paul, who had no equipment at all save his teeth and rags that he pulled from the wreckage could help them. He was assisted by two other dive instructors one of them being Matt Steffi's boyfriend and once things calmed down if that could be said to have happened he was called away by a local thai who told him there was an injured farang up in the jungle.

The injured european was Belgian Kay! He had broken both legs, lost most of his calf muscle but despite extensive head injuries was conciouse. I can only imagine the shock and relife on each others face as recognition dawned on them. I belive that Paul not only saved his life but also his legs. (I cant help but cry as i tell this as it fills me with both sadness and joy) I have learnt since that Kay was transported to Takuapa hospital where he was left untreated for nearly 24hrs before his family arranged to move him to a private hospital in Surat. He may yet loss one of his feet but his girlfriend Saow is there to comfort him.

When Paul got to us I was able to tell him that Karin was ok as were most of the others as far as I knew but still no word on my Sara or Joakim and the kids. I said that I had to leave the hill as I saw our next big issue being food so with Fred's help went home and cooked 3 lts of Swdish cauliflower and potato soup which everyone agreed later was the best they had ever had (thank you Tesco). We also dined on masses of pasta with tomato and garlic sauce. flour tortias and a bottle of champagne it was all quite civilised under the conditions.

Then Joakim returned with even more food. He had found the kids alive and well and had headed out of town to contact the outside world and bring back supplies. Klaus and Jim also returned but with the sad news that Harry the missing German still hadn't been found. Klaus had spent most of the day searching the wreckage and all the next looking through bodies and searching the hospitals. It wasn't until late the next day that he found him in Takuapa hospital. seriosly injured but alive. He said that Jo had been at Coral Grand helping out and I know later she did amazing work at the temple consoling people and trying to relocate families. Jim had been working tirelessly at c.g orcestrating the rescue efforts there.

Most people went to sleep at the Happy Snapper bar next to c.g. Karin, Paul Merry and Fred came to mine to get cleaned up (in Paul's case patched up as his body was a mas of cuts scrapes and bruise) and drunk on the vodka Fred had had the presence of mind to bring from home. A truely heroic act!!

Before we slept Joakim came back up to my house to tell me Sara had been transfered onto a navy ship and was fine as far as he knew but the info was not concrete but it went along way to settling my nerves.

As it turned out Sara had been at the Similan but the dives had been cancelled due to erratic water movement and swirling clouds of silt clay and debris.

They had no idea of the carnage that lay waiting for them on the main land. They spent about 2hrs on the navy boat but were taken back to land that evening and were to spend the night in the temple with a thousand other survivors. The relative peace was shatterd though when, as we saw time and time again over the two days we stayed in the area, some one ran through the camp yelling that the water was coming and a second tzunami was coming.

It wasn't and it didn't but the resulting panic and mass hysteria lead to more injuries and a human stampied into the jungle where they spent the night before walking back to Khao Lak in the morning.

Sara had in her care a 15 yr old boy called Kim who she had taught open water and advanced to. His father was asleep in his bungalow when the wave hit and at the time of writing is still missing. We cared for Kim over the following days until we returnd to Sweden and reunited him with his mother.

There are many other parts to this story. Some I know other I wish to find out and a whole lot that I will spend a lifetime trying to forget. There were many more acts of bravery and heroism and I belive that all those involved should be proud of what they where able to do. During the first 6-8 hrs of this tradegy Khao Lak was completely isolated. We had no power, no supplies and no contact with the outside world. The concequences of this where that there was no rescue support. no police. no ambulance no army no nothing. If it had not been for the actions of those that work in the diving community the human cost of these awful events would have been far far higher and the task of identification and re-unification almost impossible.

I would like to thank all of those involved. my friends. my collegues, my fellow hero's.

Please feel free to send this to anyone you feel would like to read it as I hope it will explain to people some of the things we did as a community and some of the things we saw. All of those in this story have lost everything and all need help to rebuild their lives but not one of us walked away from there without feeling extremly lucky that we still had a life to lead no matter how shatterd it maybe.

All our love and best wishes for the future. Keith and Sara

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