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Phuket newcomer Chotanan Totop risked his own life and almost lost it

Phuket Five Rescued from Beach 'Quicksand'

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
FOUR children and a man narrowly escaped drowning yesterday in an incident that highlighted the growing dangers at some popular Phuket beaches.

Two expats and a third in a kayak helped to rescue the five who found themselves in difficulties as sunset approached yesterday at Nai Harn, a southern beach where undercurrents become potentially deadly in the coming monsoon season. And Phuket's beaches still do not have lifeguards.

At Phuket City's Vachira Hospital last night, the four children and the man told Phuketwan about their narrow escape. The children, still dressed in hospital gowns, were to be allowed to go home after treatment.

The man, who tried to rescue the children then needed rescuing himself, was being kept in the hospital overnight for observation.

The children, all cousins, were enjoying a family Songkran New Year holiday picnic at the beach - the cheerful prelude to many of Phuket's recent needless drownings. At least two children have already drowned at Nai Harn beach so far this year.

In the water, having a great time about 6.20pm last night, were Kanokrat Tongwan, 8, sister Nidchakul, 12, and 15-year-old Nawapon Aroonmas and his brother Woothipong, 14, who all live in Phuket City. According to the children, the youngest found herself in trouble first.

Her sister move to help her, but she too found herself struggling in the water. The two boys heard the girls' cries, and moved to help them.

Within seconds, the four children were being swept away from the shore, although all four said they could swim. The family on the beach, seeing the children in danger of drowning, called out for help.

Bystander Chotanan Totop, 28, who had recently started work at the Kalim Resort after arriving on Phuket from Trang, bravely plunged in to save the children.

Before long, all five were struggling in the water. Two expats in a canoe saw the commotion and immediately went to the help of the children.

Italian Raimondo Velgaudio, 32, who had been kayak-surfing nearby, also responded and was able to urge Khun Chotanan to grab a hold to be towed to safety.

''If it hadn't been for the farang with the boat, I would probably be dead,'' Khun Chotanan said from his hospital bed last night.

The children attributed their troubles to ''quicksand,'' and said the sand simply moved too fast underfoot for them to retain their positions close to the shore.

Experts would call it a ''rip,'' a swift-flowing undercurrent that often proves too strong even for reasonable swimmers. Nai Harn has at least one rip all year long, and other popular Phuket west coast beaches develop them between May and October.

As Phuketwan pointed out in reports last year, the growth of surfing on Phuket, along with other watersports, has greatly increased awareness of safety concerns and the chances of a rescue being carried out.

However, the presence of surfers is no substitute for trained and properly equipped lifeguards. The island's lifeguard service ended in mid-November and has yet to be formally restored, although moves appear to be underway to put lifeguards back on Phuket's key tourist beaches.

Kayak-surfer Mr Velgaudio, from Naples, said the key to survival in a rip was to not panic. ''It is difficult not to panic when a wave pulls you out to sea,'' he said. ''But that is what you must do.

''Let the wave carry you out. Float in the water. Save your energy. When the wave stops carrying you out, that's the time to seek help. The danger comes if people try to fight the water, they use up all their energy and drown.''

He said there was an urgent need for all children on Phuket to be taught to swim, and said he had been involved in about 15 rescues while enjoying kayak-surfing on Phuket over the past 18 months.

The message to Phuket's children is: When the ''quicksand'' feeling comes, relax. Don't panic. Float and survive.
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Why do Thais feel the need to racially label someone in the third person, "Good thing the farang was around? " I hear this wherever I go, " Oh, farang..."

This slang term is not only rude but bigoted.

Editor: Why do cultural imperialists always criticise what they don't understand? We've been through this before, Horse Doctor. The word farang is not racist or rude or insulting, in most everyday usage. Only those farang leading a blinkered existence in Thailand see it otherwise. Do you have some point to make about beach safety, or are you destined to always have nothing of relevance to add?

Posted by Horse Doctor on April 13, 2010 10:47


I was on Nai Harn yesterday and there were some very strong rips.They had the red flags out and the warning boards indicating where the rips were and not to swim but no one was taking any notice of them.

Posted by Rich on April 13, 2010 12:33


As writing is ok, it is much better to see it: Here is a great video, what to do in a rip current.

Starts at 1:12 min.

Beach Safety Website:

Posted by Lena on April 13, 2010 16:38


A tropical top destination with kilometers of crowd beaches without beach-guards is no more acceptable. The other episode with the young Singaporean involved in a jet ski crash in Patong and the lack of professional rescue . . . it's really a big shame for Phuket.

I really wonder why we still have to read so often such bad news.

In my opinion the Governor should seize the jet-skis without licenses and set up a well trained rescue team that can make good use of them


Horse Doc. farang is as farang does

Posted by Malpelo on April 13, 2010 17:26


Editor: You Must be Joking, do you have something to suggest about beach safety? We don't dispute that 'farang' can be used as an insult, just as white or black or yellow can be used as an insult, but that's an issue of context. 'Farang' in everyday usage is not insulting.

Posted by You must be joking on April 14, 2010 00:56


Definitely more signage, and more education needed. I can't help but notice how often these events happen to Thai people on a Sunday or a Thai public holiday.

People living and working on an island need real education the ocean. I know more Thai none swimmers than swimmers.

About the use of 'farang'. As a check to see if it's offensive, put the word ***, *** or *** in the same sentence.

'If it hadn't been for the **** with the boat, I would probably be dead.' Still inoffensive?

Editor: The word 'farang' is not a slur or an insult or offensive in the vast majority of usages in Thailand. I suggest you substitute 'European,' 'Westerner' or 'expat' for the context in which it is most often used. Anyone who believes 'farang' is offensive every time either knows little about the Thai language, or is paranoid. As with 'white,' 'black' or 'yellow' it's a multi-purpose word, and the application is always a question of the context in which it is used. If someone is calling you a 'farang' and you think it's an insult every time, you have a problem.

Posted by Mr Mark on April 15, 2010 12:57


I thought this report was about safety not f....n farangs... Grow up...

Posted by barka on April 15, 2010 23:12

Sunday October 17, 2021
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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