This post is also available in: English
It’s nearly three years since I got on a plane. I miss travel but Boy!, I don’t miss flying.
When it comes to buckling up my seatbelt and preparing for take-off I’m a bundle of nerves, convinced that the grim reaper will be carting me off well before I get my first tray of airline slop.
It’s not the thought of being in “coach” that freaks me. More like having not the slightest concept of how thrust works outside the bedroom and being helpless in an aluminium tube.
I took my first flight aged 19 in October 1980 from Heathrow to Paris for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I didn’t back the winner but got back to South London safely despite being terrified. Next flight was one way to Kabul on Ariana Afghan Airlines. But that’s another story.
Since 2018 the furthest I’ve been is Khon Kaen. On the safety of a motorcycle. Yes, I don’t really appreciate the wisdom that says you’re more likely to die on the way to the airport than on a plane. Give me my Honda 250 over a jumbo any day.
Rooster was reminded of all these irrational angsts this week – and much more – when Manager prompted my Thaivisa editor about a grim anniversary on Wednesday.
It was 30 years since the May 26th, 1991, crash of Lauda Air 004. A total of 223 passengers and crew died after a Boeing 767 broke up in flight over what is now the Phu Toei National Park in Suphanburi, Thailand.
In aviation circles the accident and its investigation became famous for the actions of airline owner Niki Lauda, the former world champion racing car driver who started the Austrian company. Lauda’s work led to Boeing modifying the thrust reverser system that contributed to the accident.
But in Thailand it is remembered for a different reason. The wholesale looting of the crash site over many square kilometers of semi-wilderness led to much national soul searching.
Locals and foundation rescue staff scoured the site for jewelry, passports, electronics, luggage – anything they could sell to make a quick buck. Few cared about the integrity of the crash site for investigative purposes or the fact it was a graveyard. More than two dozen victims were unidentified and buried in a cemetery 90 kms from the main crash area.
Newspapers and magazines at the time showed the brazen trading in the possessions of the dead on tables at the site. A line of noodle vendors stretched for miles to fuel the gawking and the greedy.
Obviously this was a pre-social media, pre-video on demand age and looters were unlikely to be found or personally shamed. But the press and letters to the editor questioned the ethics of Thais and how they would be viewed by the international community.
Have things improved? I don’t know. We are more watched these days that might make us better behaved. But when one hears of looters and opportunists at ordinary crash sites the memories come flooding back.
Many Thais have a ghoulish streak that might have made them immune to the horror of an aircrash. Just look at their press photos and crime mags for proof of that. But I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide if Thais are any more or less moral than they used to be.
There have been many other aircraft crashes of note within the kingdom and involving the country’s national carrier outside Thailand.
One of the first of note during my time in Thailand was on 21st November 1990 shortly after the opening of the airport on Koh Samui. A De Havilland Canada Dash 8 crashed in bad weather 5 km south west of the airport in a coconut farm killing all 38 aboard Bangkok Airways Flight 125 from Don Muang. Pilot error and spatial disorientation were blamed.
Such causes result in carnage on the Thai roads, just replace pilot with rider or driver.
Much ghoulishness and some public-spiritedness was also associated with the 31st August 1987 crash of Thai Airways Flight 365 from Hat Yai to Phuket that ended up in the sea after an aerodynamic stall caused by concern about another aircraft approaching Phuket International Airport. The pilot and air traffic control were blamed.
Many fishermen were instrumental in the recovery of 83 people and parts of the Boeing 737 from the Andaman, 15 kms from the airport.
But some of the parts became gruesome accoutrements at a restaurant on the island. The huge supports for the wheels became the entrance and airline seats were used to seat the diners.
I never saw it personally but I think I might have brought up my dinner if I did.
On 11th December 1998 an Airbus 310-204 stalled and crashed in a swamp while attempting a landing. Flight 261 started in Don Muang but 101 of the 146 aboard perished before they could disembark in Surat Thani. It was determined that the crew became disoriented in what was Thailand’s second worst air disaster after Lauda Air.
Nearly nine years later it was the turn of Phuket again as One-Two-GO flight OG 269 from Don Muang crashed into an embankment in flames after a failed “go-around”. Ninety of the 130 aboard died, some burned alive in the flames, others killed by flying luggage.
Thai Airways have had several other accidents most notably flight 311 on 31st July 1992 when a “loss of situational awareness” by the pilot and air traffic control led to an Airbus A310-304 bound for Kathmandu from Bangkok crashing in Nepal. All 113 aboard died.
Apart from these one of the most notable crashes was one in the Andaman sea about 150 kms off Thailand that was caused by a terrorist bomb left by two North Korean agents aboard Korean Air flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul via Abu Dhabi and Bangkok on November 29th 1987. All 115 passengers and crew died and wreckage was washed up in Thailand. Ultimately after one of the agents took cyanide and the other, a woman was pardoned, the crime was linked to the then North Korean heir apparent Kim Jong-Il.
For Rooster it’s not just the accidents but the whole process of flying that is scary and miserable. I love travelling and have taken hundreds of flights but these days I prefer to say I’m into what the Swedes call “flygskam” or flight shaming, a movement to restrict unnecessary air-travel that gained traction in northern Europe.
It was started in 2018 by celebrities in Sweden including Malena Ernman, the opera singer who is also the mother of climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Yes, as I have noted in this column before, if I ever go to England again I shall take the train via Russia – and blow the expense in time and money!
Other news on Thaivisa this week inevitably concerned the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. Record daily death tolls were recorded.
Record numbers in Bangkok went to places like 7-Eleven to register for a jab – 1.2 million on the first day prompting time extensions.
I went to “sewen” to get ice (frozen water) for my Chaba brand Pomelo juice. (Thanks eternally to the reader who suggested it as an alternative to grapefruit juice. I ditched the vodka and got addicted to Cha-Ba….)
The Thai bashers on the forum and Facebook arm revelled in the continued flip-flopping and delays in the vax rollout. I reckon it’ll all be forgotten come next month.
The authorities hope that tourists will be imbued with confidence once 70% of Thais are jabbed. Methinks that international tourists are going to be very reluctant to go far if they even travel internationally. A report that Thai tourism would not recover “fully” until 2026 seemed optimistic!
In Pattaya maskless people and drinkers were named and shamed in several stories giving ample scope for click-a-thons. Some said “som nam na” (serves you right) others screamed about civil liberties, denied the pandemic was real or that vaccines were of any use.
Same old, same old – still, thx for da clix.
Big Too gave the former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn a further slap. After he stole the PM’s thunder doing a good job in the cave drama in 2018, but was subsequently removed, Narongsak became governor of Lampang.
Here – by hook or by crook – he managed to get 223,976 people to register for jabs (compared to 4,587 in neighboring Lamphun). Prayut then changed the rules and directed that vaccinations must be carried out where they were needed most – like Bangkok and Phuket! Bless!
Narongsak can’t win unless he is compared to the former general in the credibility stakes, that is.
Report cards on Prayut’s seven year anniversary of his grab of power depended on the outlet who produced them. I just want to see a new face – as I told my big brother this week, I’d be bored with him if we had to live together every day.
Fallout from the raid at the Phoenix Country Club mansion the previous week in which two members of the RTP were shot, continued. Chinese media showed CCTV from several angles that they claimed showed that the plain clothes Thai cops were a little, er, overzealous in presenting a search warrant.
They were shown running at the Chinese suspect who fled to his bedroom and then fired multiple rounds from a high powered gun. He claimed he thought he was being abducted.
Lt-Gen Roi of Region 2 – Roi of the Rozzers if you like – claimed everything was done by the book and the Chinese media only showed selected angles.
Mind you I strongly suspect that “by the book” covers a multitude of sins. The RTP manual is likely to have sections that Cockneys would call “‘ow to get away with porky pies”.
In crime news the word “jealousy” is fast taking over from “brake failure” and “transferred to an inactive post” in frequency of use. A nasty lover unloading his gun into a woman in a taxi outside Big C on Rama 2 being a case in point.
And so to a few highly prized Rooster Awards.
The “Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It” award goes to Somporn, 32, the truck driver who drove from Samut Prakan to Sadao (barely 1000 kms) with his pipes lying sideways. He said he left in the afternoon so other motorists could see the hazard. No charges were laid.
The “Look at me I’m Not a Pirate” prize goes to Uncle Too who was basking in praise from the English Premier league supremo Richard Masters this week for his stance on copyright issues.
As a myriad of posters observed, Mr Masters might like to take a trip to a Thai market to get his favorite footy jersey – he’ll save a fortune and could even take a job lot back to Blighty to flog at the pub.
All this reminded Rooster of happy days mailing boxes of Jean Paul Gaultier off to London in the 1980s and telling customs officers at Heathrow that I wouldn’t dream of smuggling while trying not to let the dozen dodgy Rolex in me undies slip down.
“Top Video” of the week went to a 24 year old mechanic and shock absorber guy who got the shock of his young life. A wheel came off a truck and nearly sent him to his maker as he played games on his mobile during a lunch break at the repair yard.
The “Fake” of the week, always keenly contested, went to Thanetphon in Don Muang who pretended to be a cop and fired two shots in the air in a road rage incident caught on tape.
Tut-tut Thanetphon. Didn’t your mummy tell you that if you were a real cop the other guy would have ended up shot…..
Finally, there was far better news for the much maligned water monitor.
My first wife always told me to say “Ah! There’s a ‘tua ngern tua thong’ ” if one crossed my path. This appropriate language will bring untold riches.
Most Thai men just use its more common name when they swear about their first wives.
Apparently, a vet and researcher at Mahidol has been experimenting on the creature’s blood and hopes to find medicines to treat cancer and even Covid!
As Thaivisa said, Varanus Salvator (its Latin name) has gone….
“From Hia to Hero”.