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Tourists enjoy the grandeur off Phi Phi, an island in waiting

Phi Phi Deaths: Cause 'May Take a Month or More'

Monday, May 11, 2009
RESULTS of autopsies on two young women tourists who died in unusual circumstances on the holiday island of Phi Phi are not likely to be available for a month or more.

Norwegian Ambassador Merete Fjeld Brattested told Phuketwan today that a month or more was the normal length of time for autopsy results to be processed in Thailand.

She said she was ''very concerned that the press is speculating wildly'' about the causes of death of the women on Phi Phi.

Norwegian Julie Bergheim,22, and American Jill St Onge, 27, fell ill with similar symptoms while occupying adjacent rooms at the Laleena Guesthouse on Phi Phi on May 2 and died at the local hospital within hours of each other.

Phuketwan asked the Ambassador today whether results had been obtained for the autopsy on Norwegian citizen Erik Liuhagen, 48, who died on Phi Phi on April 1 after being admitted to the local hospital with severe diarrhea.

The Ambassador said the embassy was also still awaiting the autopsy result in that case. She said the embassy was awaiting ''appropriate information.''

She said that a woman companion to Miss Bergheim, who also fell sick, was now back in Norway.

Ryan Kells, 31, who was travelling with Miss St Onge, is believed to have returned to the US with Miss St Onge's ashes.

Thai health officials have told Phuketwan that there was no link between the death of Erik Liuhagen and those of the two women.

He arrived on Phi Phi with symptoms of illness and stayed at another guesthouse, we were told.

However, the wait for Mr Liuhagen's autopsy result does indicate a wait can also be anticipated in the other cases, too.

A spokesperson for the epidemiology department at Public Health in Bangkok said today that samples taken from the women's bodies would be subjected to one test at a time as potential causes of death were discounted.

The testing is being undertaken at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok.

On hearing of the two sudden deaths, epidemiologists feared an outbreak of a disease or a virus, and hastened from Bangkok to Phi Phi.

Neither a virus nor disease proved to be the cause.

Death by gas also seems unlikely because, an informed source told Phuketwan today, ''if it was a gas there should be more dead or more people affected.''

While the two dead women and their stricken companions occupied Rooms 4 and 5 on the ground floor at Laleena, others in rooms near them, behind them and above them suffered no symptoms.

The owner of the guesthouse, Rat Chuped, does not believe her guesthouse was the source of the malaise and has rejected an unofficial request for her to close Laleena until the results of the autopsy are known.

Existing guests are staying on, but she is not taking new bookings.

The US Embassy in Bangkok is also awaiting the results.

Press Attache Michael R. Turner said today: ''The US Embassy continues to closely monitor the case and is in contact with the relevant Thai authorities.

''We have also been in contact with the families involved and have assisted them during this difficult and painful process.

''The death of an American citizen overseas is a very serious matter for the Embassy, and we offer Jill's family our condolences for their tragic loss.''

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


why is a gas an unlikely cause of the deaths. The guesthouse is right next to a water treatment plant. That means chlorine is present, and also methane. Both of these are potentially deadly after prolonged exposure.

Also that the guesthouse is not closed seems crazy. If that were in many other countries that place would have police caution tape all around it. Why are the owners of the guesthouse so unconcerned with the safety of human life.

Posted by Anonymous on May 11, 2009 21:23


Thailand needs to understand that the truth will come out and honesty is the best policy here. I know that Phi Phi is driven by tourism, but having tourists die and then the government not pursuing the reasons publicly will only result in non-trust and fewer tourists.

Phi Phi - you need to demand the truth. If it's an accident, then find out why. If it's foul-play, then who is responsible. Having this be an open-ended mystery is the worst case scenario for you.

I was going to take my family there to Thailand in August, but haven't bought tickets yet and am now looking at Kauai, Hawaii due to this story.

Posted by BE on May 11, 2009 21:29

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