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Red flags hold no meaning as a Russian mother prepares for a swim

Phuket's Deadly Allure: Karon Beach Photo Special

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
PHUKET: The Russian family group arrived on the beach on Phuket beaming big smiles, enjoying the sunshine. Within seconds, they stripped to swim costumes. A mother decked her curly-haired child in water wings, and they headed for the crashing surf.

The scene was on Karon beach yesterday, at the same spot where about 20 hours earlier, an Australian tourist had gone missing, and is now presumed drowned.

Proving fatal to tourists time and time again at Karon beach, Phuket's most dangerous, is the allure of sun, sand and surf.

The Australian tourist who took the plunge at dusk on Monday, Jennifer Laidley, 44, was the exception. She knew it was risky, but decided to swim anyway.

Most of those lost in the waves at Karon over the past few years have been non-English speakers, people who fail to read the warning signs and may not know that Phuket beaches can be deadly at the wrong time of year.

They also either ignore, misinterpret or fail to notice the red flags that dot Karon and other Phuket beaches when conditions are too turbulent for swimming.

The flags all carry messages in capital letters: DANGEROUS! STONG (sic) CURRENT NO SWIMMING HERE, with the same also written in Thai.

This monsoon season, signs in Russian have been added. Sadly, nothing on the beach seems to dissuade holidaymakers determined to swim on their Phuket holiday.

For the resorts nearby on Karon, the drownings represent a public relations disaster.

Some of them do the right thing and warn their guests on arrival, making sure that the message is delivered in person. Many new arrivals are disinclined to read brochures or pamphlets - there are too many commercial ones as well as serious ones.

Other resorts neglect to warn their guests, and they are the ones that the lifeguards think should be doing the right thing to save drownings. As with the disappearance of Jennifer Laidley, each new tragedy brings a surge of negative publicity.

''By the time that tourists go into the water on dangerous days, it's too late,'' says Phuket Lifeguard Club leader, Prathayut ''Nat'' Cheryon. ''If resorts could warn their guests every time someone arrives between April and November, more lives could be saved.''

Consideration is also being given to a message from the pilot or in video form as each flight descends to Phuket.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Prohibited swimming when sea is safe as on Phuketwan pictures or for a 6-month period from May until October is ridiculious as many tourists will not care about it.
It would be better to rise up the flag signal according of the day conditions and delimited some restricted areas with buoys for safe swimming with beach guards on duty.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on July 6, 2011 11:10



Watch them stay out of the water then.

Posted by Harry Barracuda on July 6, 2011 16:59


It is a tragedy when someone dies, but headlines like these are not good for business when people google search karon beach for their vacation....

The beach is no more or less dangerous than the highway from HKT airport to the west coast, yet no drama is made of that?

People are warned... The local govt pays the life guards, flags, signs, what else can done?

This is your captain speaking.... Don't swim at Karon on your seaside vacation; and have a nice stay!

Posted by Scott on July 6, 2011 19:10

Editor Comment:

The paradox is that Phuket encourages people to come to the island for beach holidays, all year long, whether beaches are safe or not. In doing so, Phuket takes collective responsibility for ensuring that those visitors get home alive. Phuketwan carries just as many articles about the deaths on the road as it does about the deaths in the surf, but it's the deaths at beaches that are most avoidable and needless . . . and for that reason attract the greatest negative publicity. The warnings are not comprehensive and need to be applied in different ways at every stage for every visitor during the monsoon season. Once Phuket's whole community accepts responsibility, deaths in the water and on the roads will be minimal. It's not possible to compare the dangers on the roads to the dangers in the water. Everyone is obliged to use the roads: it's an individual choice whether or not you swim. But it's not morally responsible for resorts especially to encourage people to come to Phuket for beach holidays in the monsoon season without making sure they are as safe as possible - and taking a share of Phuket's collective responsibility.


I like swimming and diving and I do it all year around in Phuket with or without big waves, rip currents, red flags. I've done this since I've settled here in 2004. This is something in my blood, my passion and I've never put anyone in condition to rescue me. If something will happen to me, it will be none other than my sole and own responsibility, that's it. Too much fuss is made by Phuket medias when tourists drown even if figures show less drownings than in the past. Since the past 3 days, Nai Harn beach has been swimmer's heaven: flat and clear sea, no rip currents. Nevertheless, beach guards keep tirelessly patrolling the beach signalling swimmers to move side at a specific time. What else can be done ? If somebody drowns in such conditions ... well, that's karma. Nobody can be blamed but I bet medias will still make big titles. We live in the web age: anyone can easily get info about the place where holiday is going to be. Time for tourists to be responsible for using their common sense, no matter their nationality.

Posted by cekipa on July 7, 2011 13:27

Editor Comment:

''Karma'' does not kill people by drowning, sekipa, rip currents do. You forget that Thais also drown for the same reason, and we report these deaths, too. Anyone who believes, as you seem to, that drownings are acceptable has lost touch with reality. Rip currents can seldom be seen. Some parts of Nai Harn beach are notoriously dangerous - all year long. I was deeply affected on seeing the body of a 10-year-old Thai boy named Max who died at Nai Harn on January 1 last year, at the time when that beach should be at its safest. For you to pretend that it's a ''swimmer's heaven'' now or any seemingly tranquil day show your knowledge of Phuket's beaches is far from complete. The media will stop reporting deaths when the Phuket community - including you - understand what's required to prevent more needless deaths. Good luck in the surf.


I am not wishing to take away from the family tragedy and very sad loss here but if the warning signs are there and you ignore them, then it is your responsibility what happens to you. And I do understand how easily this can happen whether you are foolhardy or not.

I know it is a natural reaction to look for someone else to blame when things go wrong but honestly this was a tragedy of her own making. A not so well considered spontaneous action that has had terrible consequences for her and her family and friends.

I dont think this has produced bad publicity for Phuket. The media coverage highlights the danger of entering unknown waters, (which is relevant where-ever you may be, and the responsibility each individual must take for their own welfare. What ever may be lacking in warnings at Phuket the media coverage in Australia has gone a long way to making up for whatever gap there may be, albeit the affect of such warnings are generally short lived. The rules are the same where ever you are with regard to swimming in any sea, river or lake - do so at your own risk.

It also reminds travellers that they cannot expect the same services in some other country that they may expect in thier home country, and you need to remain cautious and vigilant with regard to your personal safety and that of your family or travelling companions etc. I'm not in any way laying any responsiblity on the friend in this instance, she did what she could in the circumstances. The terrible thing is that Ms Croslin will now suffer (along with Ms Laidley's family) because of Ms Laidley's carelessness and disregard for the warnings she should have headed.

I know not everyone reads all the brochures but as one person who grew up living in the surf I was always aware of rips and how they work, and managed to survive the odd one here or there when I was very young, though with experience I have a fairly good idea of how to spot one. Maybe a pictorial discription of how to survive might also be useful at hotel desks and rooms. Or handed to each resort patron on arrival such as that provided at the followign link.

Rips generally arent as dangerous as they are frightening. And in this instance the fact that it was nightfall would have been particularly terrifying. It is the action the individual takes when caught that generally determines survival or otherwise.

There is an old saying "what the sea takes, the sea returns". In this case it did. Thankfully Ms Laidley's family can at least bring her home. If Ms Laidley knew how to survive the rip she may have returned safely to shore. If she hadnt chosen to ignore the warnings she would never have been in that situation in the first place.

Posted by surfchick on July 8, 2011 22:28

Editor Comment:

Your view deals with one case and fails to take account of the other 11 drownings that have occurred at Karon since April last year.

This is a matter of collective responsibility. Karon beach is dangerous and holidaymakers are misled into believing it is safe. Often, the people who drown there cannot read English or Thai.

There is no sense that they have all been adequately warned, and there won't be until the resorts take their share of that collective responsibility.

The bad publicity about Karon beach will continue to grow with every death, as long as authorities fail to take proper precautions that will save lives.

It's plain that at present, the warnings do not deal with the overwhelming desire of holidaymakers to enjoy the beach holidays that they have paid for - to come to Thailand's most deadly beach at the wrong time of the year.

The resorts have a responsibility to help to protect them, and the better resorts already do so - by warning them as they arrive.

We have spent time on the beach when bodies are found, we have visited the morgue, we have gone to the intensive care units to see drowning victims who are in the process of dying.

We have talked to friends and relatives stunned at the lack of warning. We have talked to lifeguards whose constant message is: ''These people need to be warned by resorts BEFORE they go into the water.''

The answer to Karon's problem, and to saving lives, is for its resorts to take responsibility and warn all new arrivals in person, at check-in, in the appropriate language. Then the rest is up to the individuals.


If it is that dangerous then why don't they just close the beach altogether?

Posted by Surfchick on July 9, 2011 07:41

Editor Comment:

Because that would deliver a huge financial blow to the resorts. Not much point keeping a beach resort open at a closed beach. If 12 people had died at a beach from sharks since April last year, the beach would be closed, right? Yet some of the resorts - and to a certain extent the local council - have so far failed to understand that in the 21st century, they are accountable. Eventually, the family of a victim who books a resort but is not told about the dangers at the beach will sue. Then it will be plain where the responsibility lies.

Tuesday February 7, 2023
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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