Lauda Air Crash, 26 May, 1991: Thailand’s Worst Ever

Hardly a week goes without someone sending me an email out of the blue via Very often it’s just an old friend/acquaintance of mine whose found me blogs by chance, then occasionally an email concerning an old blog of mine. Rarely, however, do I get an email as touching as one received a few weeks back from a young Austrian woman. I’ll call her ‘J’.

‘J’s parents perished on the fateful night of May 26, 1991 when Lauda Air Flight Number 004 disintegrated at 4,000 foot over what is now Phu Toei national park in Suphanburi province. None of the 223 onboard survived the crash, making it the worst air crash ever over Thai soil. I once blogged on Phu Toei national park mentioning the site of the crash and that’s how I was found by ‘J’.

Unfortunately, since the tragedy occurred before the advent of the Internet there is very little information about the site of the crash etc… on the Internet. ‘J’ wanted know all that I knew about it and only after searching in Thai language did I manage to find the one single video on YouTube. This was of the actual crash site where plenty of the air crash still remains. The video is very creepy, but the Thai couple who shot it appear to be enjoying their day out. (after 1:30)

After corresponding with ‘J’, some of the things she mentioned certainly correlated with some of the stuff I had heard of the crash from folk here in Suphan. One of the saddest things to learn about some of the locals who went to ‘help’ is that they scavenged loads. Anything they could get their hands on they took. Contrary to what ‘J’ said and what it says on the Wikipedia entry, the scavengers were not local villagers. The crash site was in one of the remotest parts of Thailand, and according to a couple of rangers I spoke to “It took a couple of days of cutting through the thick jungle”. It was obviously the ‘rescuers’ who helped themselves to every valuable in sight. And according to ‘J’ the only thing left in her father’s bag were sadly pictures of her. She was just 3 years old at the time.

Realizing that there must be plenty of younger relatives looking for information on the Internet about the crash, I think it’s only right to give them a bit more info. I had been to the crash site already as blogged (see link below) but never the cemetery, so yesterday it was time to go.

Lauda Air cemetery, located in Tha Sadej sub-district of Suphanburi, is around 90km away from the actual crash site. It is not easy to find and there is certainly no public transportation going directly past. The place is very pretty but my Australian friend who I went with felt that it appeared less cared for than it used to be. There are two huge plaques bearing the names of all those who died, but sadly due to wear and tear some of the names can hardly be made out anymore. The names of a certain Thai family stick straight out as there were 5 of them, but according to the caretaker I spoke to, 8 of the same family were aboard – awful. The chief family member was the governor of Chiang Mai. In front of the name plaques is a small burial area probably for those who were too disfigured to be recognized. A crucifix marks the spot and there’s another small plaque with the names of those buried there.

My friend and I wondered about who had recently laid some fresh-looking orchards and even a small bottle of holy water with its label written in German. When we first arrived the place was deserted but fortunately one of the caretakers soon arrived, an elderly local woman. The first question I asked was concerning the amount of foreign visitors who come and I was surprised to learn “Just yesterday the parents of one of the air-hostesses came along with their son”. She went on explain that even after 18 years, many relatives of the deceased still come to the cemetery on an annual basis.

According to the caretaker, the land for the cemetery was bought and given by the family of the Chiang Mai governor (yes, guess that Lauda Air couldn’t legally purchase land here). I asked her about the funding for the upkeep and was told that Lauda Air transfer’s the huge sum of 5,000baht per month (100 euros) to the bank account of a local official. She is given an ATM card and withdraws it every month. There are 2 caretakers who take turns looking after the place and there are even quarters for them to stay. So, that’s about it, not too much info, but hopefully enough for some relevant folk in the future who will find this blog via Google.

To get to Lauda Air cemetery. From Suphanburi town drive along (14km) in the direction of Don Chedi district until you come to Tha Sadet. On your left is the beautiful well-known Wat Sra Kaew temple. Here you will see a sign in English telling you it is 2km to your left. Follow that and the next sign at 1km. If you fancy going, I have pics of the signs so maybe making it easier for you to find.

For more pics and info: Lauda Air 004 Crash

Related blog: Truly Unseen: Phu Toei National Park

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