Many looked panicked and were in pain: Thai rescue chief who aided SQ321 passengers on tarmac

Ruamkatanyu Foundation chief of operations Piyalux Thinkaew said most of the injuries were fractures and cuts, but he observed that few had life-threatening injuries. - ST

BANGKOK: Major fires, road accidents and even collapsed buildings are Piyalux Thinkaew’s usual scene of work, especially because he has been in the emergency and rescue field for nearly three decades.

But the call to be part of the medical operation attending to dozens of passengers injured in the turbulence-hit Singapore Airlines (SIA) plane that made an emergency landing in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on May 21, was a first for the Ruamkatanyu Foundation chief of operations.

“The preliminary information we got was that there were injured passengers on a plane landing at the airport,” Piyalux, 49, told The Straits Times.

He had first heard smatterings about the incident over the radio communications system connected to Thailand’s emergency services.

“We had not been activated yet, but I decided to get ready.”

The Ruamkantanyu Foundation is a non-profit rescue and disaster organisation in Thailand that is mainly staffed by volunteers who provide medical and emergency support. It also provides free coffins for the underprivileged or accident victims. It has outposts across Bangkok and other provinces, but its main building is located near Suvhanabhumi Airport.

Piyalux, who oversees and coordinates the foundation’s day-to-day emergency responses, said he activated 10 ambulances and 45 personnel. The team arrived at the airport within 10 minutes, just as the affected plane SQ321 touched down on the runway.

Flight SQ321, which was bound for Singapore from London, was about three quarters into its 13-hour journey when it encountered severe turbulence.

This wreaked havoc in the cabin, injuring some of the 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board the Boeing 777-300ER. A 73-year-old British passenger also died after purportedly suffering a heart attack.

The pilot diverted the plane to make an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 3.45pm (4.45pm Singapore Time).

Piyalux estimates that about 30 ambulances and hundreds of staff stood ready to receive the patients on the runway. Passengers were evacuated from the stationary plane and taken to tents set up on the tarmac to access their condition.

“We were in the tents receiving these patients and helping to provide the necessary treatment,” said Piyalux.

Most of the injuries were fractures and cuts, he said, but he observed that few had life-threatening injuries.

“I remember many of the passengers looking very panicked and many were in pain,” he said.

That day, the Ruamkantanyu Foundation ferried 25 injured passengers to the hospital for treatment. It also transported the body of the British man, later identified by British press as musical theatre director Geoffrey Kitchen, to the morgue.

In an update on May 30 evening, SIA said that 25 remained hospitalised in Bangkok – down from the nearly 60 people warded on May 22.

It has been over a week since the SQ321 incident, and while the medical mission that day went relatively smoothly, Piyalux said those involved – the Thai authorities, his foundation and other organisations – are still actively discussing how they can improve their response should a similar incident happen in the future.

“We want to iron out some issues, mostly to do with communication, so we can react even faster next time,” he said.

The incident has drawn considerable international attention, as it involved passengers from over a dozen countries.

“Many countries have thanked Thailand for its help, and I’m proud to have been able to support the mission,” he said. - The Straits Times/ANN

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Thailand , rescue , SQ321 , SIA , Ruamkantanyu


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