Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thailand: Arizona State University Student, 21, Disappears While Swimming at Night in Phuket

First responders in Phuket are continuing their search for a missing American student, 21, who was in Thailand under the sponsorship of Arizona State University (ASU). The young man disappeared last night (June 12) while taking a swim at Patong beach. Another US student was admitted to hospital for treatment.

According to local media, the missing university student was one of twenty ASU students who came to Phuket this week to offer suggestions on a sustainable transport system for the island.  The group had been working in Chiang Mai and Bangkok for a week each and intended to stay on Phuket for a week.
Four ASU students apparently went swimming last night about 2200 hours on Tuesday night, leaving one of their party on the beach. 
COMMENT: Unfortunately, the waters surrounding Phuket can be very dangerous, particularly at night. Rip tides and water changes during the Monsoon frequently put swimmers at risk, and at night, sight limitations can escalate that risk. 
At the same time, local officials have not emphasized the risks of swimming for fear that it will have an adverse impact on tourism.
Although most beaches in Phuket have no warning signs, the reality is that signs are of little value at night.

One preventative effort that could be put into place is having airlines display a short video on the swimming risks before landing. 

Another approach is to include in such a video that swimming at night can bring unexpected risks, emphasizing that if travelers must swim at night to do so in hotel swimming pools.

On beaches further south at Karon and Kata, where several tourists have drowned, warning signs have been installed.
This report will be updated as new information becomes available.