Wednesday, November 30, 2011

German Tourist, 52, Killed in Freak Accident While On Elephant Trek in Thailand

German tourist Kerstin Kretz Schmar, 52, and her husband, were participating in an elephant trek yesterday (November 28) in Thailand's Krabi province (not far from Phuket) when the elephant they were riding on slipped on a wet trail and Mrs. Schmar fell to the ground. A physician later described the victim as dying from a punctured lung.

As this posting is filed, local police investigating the accident have concluded, after interviewing six members of the trekking party (all of whom are related) that the mahout or driver's attempt to adjust the cinch belt on the platform on which the tourists were riding contributed to the accident.

The mahout, walking alongside the elephant, attempted to adjust the cinch when the timber howdah or platform on the elephant's back tilted to 45 degrees. When the timber seat frame showed signs of slipping even more, the German woman apparently panicked and attempted to grab ahold of her husband, at which point she fell to the ground from the howdah.

COMMENT: A sister of the woman - believed to be a registered nurse - attempted to revive Mrs. Schmar with unsuccessful results. An autopsy is scheduled to be conducted in the neighboring province of Surat Thani.

Reportedly, some elephant trekking companies on Phuket and in the nearby provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga ensure that passengers riding elephants are strapped onto their timber frame or howdahs on the elephant's back with seat-belt style restraints, but not all use such devices.

One tourist has been killed and two other tourists have been seriously injured on Phuket and in Phang Nga over the past two years in male elephant rampages. The cause is usually a condition known as musth, when male elephants become unsafe to ride. The overwhelming majority of tourist trek elephants on Phuket and in Krabi and Phang Nga are female.

Admittedly, nothing in life is risk-free, yet international travelers are urged to carefully evaluate tour operators before engaging in activities that could result in injury or death, which is one reason to use the recommendation of an international tour operator in which they have confidence.

As a matter of interest, on previous elephant tours abroad, I have ridden on a number of elephants, but always with a seat-belt type of restraint in the event of an accident as described above.

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