Unexplained tourist deaths on Koh Phi Phi Island


Thailand's Koh Phi Phi is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful tropical islands on the world. It has also seems to be one of the most deadly.

Sriracha John at ThaiVisa pieces together various news accounts and shows that there have been not two but five unexplained deaths on the island in the past 2 months:
1. The Norwegian woman, of the OP that died, is Julie Michelle Bergheim.

2. The Norwegian woman, that was Julie's companion and got ill but survived, identified as "Venninnen"?

3. The American woman, that died at the same guesthouse, is Jill Sheree St. Onge.

4. There was another Norwegian woman, at the same guesthouse that died in April, is unnamed. Her autopsy is not ready.

5. There was a 46 year-old Norwegian man, that died also in April, is unnamed.
[According to VG (Norwegian newspaper) "a 46-year-old Norwegian man died on the Phi Phi Islands for a month ago. He was on honeymoon when he became ill, probably suffering from food poisoning."]

6. There is an unidentified nationality man, that died this month, and found in the waters of Phi Phi and is the subject of the separate thread:

That makes 5 unexplained deaths and 1 nearly died in Phi Phi, all in the very recent past.
The fiancée of 27 year old Jill Sheree St. Onge believes she was poisoned from chemical fumes coming from a nearby water treatment plant.
I found out later that there is a water treatment plant right behind the guesthouse. I feel that Jill was poisoned by a chemical from that plant. She spent about 5 more hours in the room than I did. She was just breathing in the fumes for so long. The only reason I did not get deathly ill, is that I kept getting these short breaks from the air in the room, writes Ryan Kells on a family blog.
Some people have commented that the Jill's symptoms (stomach pains, etc) resemble CO2 poisoning. The Andaman Times reports on a doctor's autopsy that cyanide was found in the body; Phuket Wan is covering it too; and the Seattle Times has a story. The brother of Jill St. Onge has blogged about the tragedy.

Meanwhile, a Swiss woman was found strangled to death on a beach in Krabi -- only a short boat ride away from Phi Phi Island.


The most reliable source of insight we have into what may have happened is Ryan, quoted above. He wrote: "I found out later that there is a water treatment plant right behind the guesthouse. I feel that Jill was poisoned by a chemical from that plant."

More from Ryan via Skype:
Jill was looking real bad, vomiting, I laid down with her to try to make her feel better still thinking it was the burger that was making her feel bad.

Probably around 4 am I started to feel bad and vomiting myself. . . . They did CPR for about an hour to no avail. I now think that is why I didn't get sick, because I kept getting these breaks from the air in the room, while Jill kept staying in bed. She was exposed to the air in the room for probably 5 or six more hours than I was. I was vomiting at the hospital, but I thought it was just because of the situation. Now maybe it was from my shorter exposure to the air in the room
Based on the information about the water treatment plant and the symptoms reported by Ryan, it seems to me that the most likely cause of death was chlorine gas poisoning. One of the chlorine storage tanks near the water treatment facility may have sprung a leak. As this report out of New York indicates, even a small leak of chlorine gas container calls for an evacuation:

A major use for chlorine is to treat water (disinfect it). Tanks of chlorine are often at both waste water treatment plants and municipal water supply treatment and intake facilities.

First Response To A Chlorine Gas Release

Those not especially trained and employed by the chlorine gas user should promptly evacuate the area as soon as the respiratory irritation is experienced. If the source is known and it is practical to do so without getting closer to the source, attempt to flee upwind from the gas release source. If it is practical to do so without getting closer to the source, attempt to flee to higher ground, especially if it is upwind from the release site. If there is little wind, the chlorine gas will tend to move, or stay, in low areas. Another option is to go inside a building and close off all outside air intakes and call emergency services on the telephone. However, evacuation is advised for 3 miles downwind of a small chlorine release, 5 miles downwind for a major release, and anywhere within 1500 feet of the source. The best defense is a gas mask with independent air supply and special fully encapsulating, vapor-protective clothing. (fire suits used by firefighters for structural fires are not adequate.)

If a water treatment plant is, indeed, located near the hotel where the tourists died, then a chlorine storage container may have ruptured. The classic symptoms of chlorine gas poisoning include vomiting. Based on what Ryan has told us, a chlorine gas leak must be strongly suspected.

It would seem advisable that tourists and residents of Phi Phi be kept far away from the island's water treatment facility until a full investigation is undertaken by competent authorities.

1 comment:

  1. Is this place already restricted for tourist? I see many people still touring around the Island.