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Robert Borland, 11 kilos lighter but working again now

I Am Flying Again: Phuket Plane Crash Survivor

Friday, May 30, 2008
ROBERT BORLAND survived last year's plane crash on Phuket and, almost as remarkably, he lived through the 99 days in hospital that followed.

With his pants on fire, the hefty company CEO was dragged onto a wing and into the arms of helpers by a humble Thai hero who had turned back into the burning plane to carry out the rescue.

Borland's long battle with serious gasoline burns to 30 percent of his body came next.

And then there were the demons he had to confront before flying again.

''I've learned that life could finish pretty quickly at any time, so my philosophy has changed a bit,'' he said over a coffee in Patong, the resort town where he lives.

Borland, a 10-year Phuket resident who was born in Britain then migrated to Australia, is one of 40 people who lived after the crash of One-Two-Go flight 269 at Phuket International Airport on September 16 last year.

Ninety passengers and crew perished in the smouldering fuselage or succumbed later to wounds.

Here's what the survivor had to say about his first flight months after the crash, a short hop to Bangkok, with his burns still healing:

''The landing was the traumatic part. I did my best not to look out the window, to concentrate on a point on the bulkhead in front of me.

''But you're aware of all the 'clunks' as the wheels start going down. You hear 'clunk' as they put the airbrakes on and you hear another 'clunk' as something else happens.

''You tend to tense up, no matter how much you try to say to yourself: 'You're ok, they're a very good airline, excellent aircraft, you're in a nice safe seat, the staff are looking after you, the captain has been properly trained, don't worry about these things.

'''But you are still thinking 'I know things can go wrong.' You say, 'OK, five minutes, four minutes, three minutes . . . You feel the wheels touch the ground and you think, 'Yup, I'm OK.' Then you get the hell off the plane.''

Borland, now 49, remains outgoing and eloquent, but altered physically and mentally by his experience. For a start, he is 11 kilos lighter.

''I don't think I can blame that on the hospital food,'' he joked. ''I would like to say I could keep the kilos off, but I still eat my chocolate.''

He wears a lycra body suit beneath his street clothes (''Superman,'' he says) and will continue to cover his burns in cream in a daily ritual that will go on for at least another year.

But he says that he is, to use hospital parlance, ''ambulatory,'' and thoroughly pleased to be walking again.

''There are times when you think to yourself, 'Why did this happen? Why did I live and other people didn't?''' he says.

''A lot of those things come into it. There are times when I probably get more bubbly than I should.

''Today I am probably a lot more compassionate about some things than I would have been before. Other things, I am less forgiving about.

''I don't suffer fools gladly. I certainly appreciate my family more, and we are a very scattered family.''

In many ways, he is a walking testimony to the skills of the surgeons and nursing staff at the Bangkok Hospital Phuket, one of several hospitals on the island.

With the choice of going to Bangkok or to the Australian city of Perth and world-renown specialists for treatment for his burns, Borland opted to stay on Phuket because that's where his friends live.

His mother Muriel, a former nurse, came from Perth and stayed to oversee his recovery. She liked what she saw.

Every two or three days, her son had to be anaesthetised so that nurses could change the bandages on his burns without pain. It was no easy regimen.

''The hospital was incredibly clean,'' Borland said. ''I had absolutely no infection and I was there 99 days.

''As Mum says, if it had been an Australian or a British hospital, she doubts that I would have been so lucky. She was unbelievably impressed with how well I was treated.''

Perhaps the most unusual part of his treatment was the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, also known as a decompression chamber, the kind once used solely to assist scuba divers suffering pressure related injury after surfacing too fast.

With a broken arm plastered and a fractured vertebrae plated, doctors began concentrating on treating his extensive burns, 70 percent of which were second degree and 30 percent third degree.

Within days of the crash, Borland underwent the first of nine treatments in a chamber at the hospital.

''They put me inside with the aim of reoxygenating and cleaning everything out,'' Borland says.

''The chamber is about two metres long, like a clear perspex torpedo tube, with all the necessary valves. You are slid in on a stretcher, then they start pressuring.

''They pressurise you to about one and a half times the normal pressure on the Earth's surface. They make sure you're ok, then you suddenly hear the big rush as they pump the oxygen through.

''They keep going for about 45 minutes, then give you a break, using regular air under pressure, then they give you another 40 or 45 minutes of pure oxygen. Then they slowly bring you up.''

Within a short time, superficial burns to his face and arms healed and he was undergoing the first of 11 skin grafts.

After being allowed home for the Christmas break, he was finally discharged one day short of his century.

Having flown back to Perth to visit his family in April, he is now less concerned about taking to the air, and full of praise for his rescuer, for the doctors and nurses and chamber staff, and for Australian embassy officials and the local honorary consul who helped at every opportunity.

''One of those National Geographic programs that you tend to watch when you are in hospital said one flight in every five million becomes a crash statistic,'' he says.

''And they sort of said you had more chance of getting injured on your way to the airport or on your way home than when you are actually flying. And I always remember that now, when I am flying.

''OK, I've had mine, I've got another five million flights before I get hit again. It's something that's happened, it's something we've lived through. I'll just get on and enjoy my life.''

He is back overseeing a large condominium development project at Bangtao, a five-star beach resort on the island's west coast, and a relatively contented man.

But he would still like to know the answer to the simple question: why?

Almost nine months on, there has been no definitive report from the team investigating the cause of the crash. Much of the blame has been apportioned to wind shear in severe weather, but doubts remain about the behavior of the Indonesian pilot and the condition of the 24-year-old aircraft.

Until there is a finding, budget airlines everywhere will continue to fly under a cloud.

''I am very surprised that we haven't heard the results from the black box,'' Borland says. ''I talk to friends in the aviation industry who say a result from a flight recorder usually takes between three and six months.

''I have heard so many different rumors, so many different stories. I'd just like to know.''

Sidebar Story: The Chamber of Hope

Robert Borland's steady recovery is just one of the positive medical outcomes that continue to win praise for hyperbaric chambers and oxygen treatments now being applied on an increasing range of medical conditions.

At Bangkok Hospital Phuket, the operation of the two chambers in a suite on the ground floor has a distinctly nautical feeling.

In fact, the process involved in use of the chambers is called ''diving.'' It is regarded as adjunctive therapy that benefits patients when applied with time-honored medical treatment.

Facility manager Robert Armington, a veteran of three decades of commercial diving, says: ''Hyperbaric chambers treat all kinds of medical conditions these days.

''After the One-Two-Go crash, we helped heal burns, broken bones, and displaced hip joints.

''We currently treat stroke victims, and patients as much as four-years 'post injury' diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. We have had stunning results from these treatments.

''We regularly treat diabetic patients afflicted by slow healing extremity wounds.

''In the US and Europe, this therapy is being widely used for treating muscular dystrophy, autism, cerebral palsy, and even addiction withdrawal treatment.''

Former oxygen chamber 'diver' Robert Borland says that in Australia, dentists are now even using oxygen treatment on patients who have had all their teeth removed, so their gums heal rapidly.

Each treatment in the chambers at Bangkok Hospital Phuket costs 3500 baht to 5500 baht.

The chambers, each worth between five and six million baht, are operated by the Badalveda Diving Medicine Network, headed by Managing Director Dr Suriya Na Nagara.

Related Article:
To see how far Robert Borland has come, view the day-after photograph with this report.

Air Crash Questions Go Unanswered

Please tell us your view on the Phuket air crash. Just add your comment below


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Mr Borland,
Please check out, then get yourself a good lawyer. No one was flying that plane ...

Posted by Mustava Mond on February 18, 2009 11:20

Tuesday May 21, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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