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September 5, 2015

Bangkok Bombing 2015

September 5, 2015 | By |

On the 17th August 2015, the largest bombing in Bangkok’s history occurred inside the popular Erawan Shrine at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Pathum Wan, Central Bangkok. 

Initially it was reported as a possible car LPG tank explosion, of which Thailand has many. There were also reports on emergency radio frequencies of many injured, but numbers were not exact.

Although Pathum Wan is not an area I cover in my duties as a Rescue Medic, a friend suggested I attend this incident as reports of the wounded began flooding in. Ratchaprasong intersection is a quick 5-minute ride away from where I am usually stationed – I drive a motorcycle ambulance enabling me to navigate Bangkok’s grid-locked traffic and quickly arrive on scene to assist patients until ambulances arrive.

A few minutes later as I entered the Lumpini area of Bangkok I heard on one of my radios a conflicting report that it was a motorcycle bomb; a type we regularly have in the south of Thailand. Radio chatter was alight with reports of many seriously injured, and even some deaths. I picked up my pace and arrived two minutes later.

As I neared the scene I turned on my bodycam and began filming; the rest of what happened can be viewed in this video.

The initial video was 20 minutes long, but I edited it and pixelated the faces of the victims as well as I could to preserve some dignity for them and their families. I recorded the scene to allow my fellow rescue workers around the world to witness an EMS scene they themselves may one day have to attend. I hope it will assist you in your training courses.

Arrival on Scene

0:00 Because of traffic, I ended up on the wrong side of the road when entering the scene. And so I initially did not see the extent of the carnage opposite me, where the shrine is. In front of me I saw a man lying on the road who looked like he had some serious injuries and was unable to stand. I noticed people all around me being carried away with superficial to serious injuries.

I parked my bike next to a column that supports Bangkok’s BTS sky-train system and dismounted ready to help the man on the road. As I approached him, a fire-rescue worker came to his aid. I turned around looking past the column and finally saw the destruction the blast had wrought. I was quite stunned to see such devastation and made my way over as I spotted a lady lying motionless on the ground with no one assisting her.

At 0:51 I was briefed by a rescue worker that this lady had no pulse. The reason I continue to check her pulse is that I wanted to double check, since in the past rescue workers have made mistakes causing delays in treatment. After checking with my pulse meter and physically checking her carotid artery and eyes, I felt she was already cool to the touch. I pay little attention to a small hole in her cheek which later would probably be the main reason she died – it was made by a ball bearing shooting at high velocity up through her cheek and probably entering her skull. All this time I am surveying the scene and noticing more bodies inside and outside of the shrine area. A rescue worker is telling me a motorcycle bomb caused the explosion. I feel the scene is safe for me to enter, so do so. On my left is a woman that looks in shock, staring eerily into space. She is already on a spinal board and about to be lifted out.

The Shrine

Inside the shrine is chaos. There are more reporters than rescue workers and I have to push past them. There is still no scene control at this time. At 1:55 I arrive to assist a group of ambulance staff removing a patient but then stop and look down to notice I am straddling 3 other bodies with others all around. My head is trying to take in all of this, and make a decision who to help first. I walk around the group and see several fatally injured people, and some body parts. I start checking pulses, but most I do not even need to check as they are obviously deceased. The blood, concrete dust, dirt, and oil from the shrines now damaged oil lamps, is all mixing together and causing volunteers to slip and slide – sometimes losing their footing and ending up covered in this mix.

A breath of life

2:24 I am wondering if there is anything I can do anymore when I notice a lady in a blue top near my feet. I see her eyes open and then close again. I push past a medic next to me and kneel down in the blood. I can’t believe she is alive, as she has some significant injuries to her lower extremities. As I start cutting open her clothing to check for other injuries I am looking around for other signs of life. There are two other people piled on top of her legs, and they look severely disfigured having been left for dead – as was this lady until I noticed her eyes. Someone besides me notices I am helping this lady and calls for people to assist in removal of these bodies but nobody responds so I jump over and move them myself. I feel bad to push aside the bodies as if they are a piece of debris but I am still hoping to get life out of this situation.

3:40 Under the bodies are pieces of other people’s bodies and it is then I notice that both her legs are broken in multiple places – from the femur down to her feet. These injuries alone are life-threatening and I wonder how long she has. I once again notice holes everywhere and finally click that this must have been a ball bearing bomb intended to cause maximum damage and casualties. I automatically think this is not a Thai bomb; I have never encountered this kind of devastation from a bomb in Bangkok before, and I have been to several already, mostly without fatalities. They are normally used to cause panic or political instability but this was different, this had full intentions of death and destruction.

4:26 I look up suddenly to see my partner, Tiger, arrive with a board and vacuum splints. I’m so happy to see him. Moments later other members of our team arrive – Pop, and young Bond. They are unfazed by the devastation and just do their job! I am damn proud of them! As they are preparing to take patients to the ambulance; I am busy applying “combat dressings” to the wounds. It is hard to know what to bandage since there are so many wounds. If I had more time I would have her looking like a mummy before she left, but the boys want to get her out of the scene as I find out later there is now talk of a potential second bomb.

6:00 She is taken from the scene, and I assume off to hospital.

6:10 I’m walking around trying to assist others, stepping over dead bodies to get anywhere.

6:30 the police and army are trying to clear everyone out, I still want to check on the bodies I have been stepping over, but notice they are already shrouded in white cloth.

6:40 I go to assist another EMS group with their patients. I am told the girl is dead, but the man seems to not have life threatening injuries. We finish patching him up and are moving him onto a board when I realize he is expressionless – staring at the girl next to him whom I guess is his girlfriend or wife. Someone tells him she is dead and to release his hand from her so we can board him out. He was either deaf from the blast or in shock, but finally we had to remove his hand and take him away. For me this was the hardest thing to forget that night – I felt so sorry for the guy, and of course his partner.

7:20 I get a good look at the bomb crater.

7:38 I notice our ambulance has still not left scene and is full of doctors and nurses working on our patient. I make my way over to see they are doing CPR, defibrillating and intubating. I make my way in to assist. I didn’t want to lose my patient.

8:00 I take over CPR. The video is cut short, but after another five minutes she is taken to hospital. A few hours later she is pronounced dead from internal bleeding.

8:57 I notice a bird cage and just wish I could find a bird alive in there to release, but once again the reaper wins out this night.

I’m still a bit dazed and trying to take it all in. Now there is only the familiar white shrouded victims we could not help, laying all around us. I work my way back to my bike and behind the column I notice a hidden plastic bin bag hanging head height just 3 meters from me. I feel a cold hand over me as I get off my bike. I walk around the column to tell army and ranking police officers what I found. They quickly clear the area and a bomb disposal officer is brought in. After an hour someone tells me it is diffused – I find out a day later from a reporter friend that it was not a bomb. Lots of misinformation happened during this time but I still feel I did the right thing – Perhaps I could have saved many people had it been a bomb.

EMS Personnel

I want to say I am really proud of the Thai EMS and how they were able to clear 150 injured from the scene in the space of about 30 minutes. Remember that most of these volunteers are First Responders with only a 2-day training course under their belts. The Thai hospitals and government ambulance services coordinated the receiving of patients well, and there were plenty of nurses and doctors on scene within 15-20 minutes of the blast. Thailand’s ‘Secure, scoop, and run’ system works well because of the abundance of hospitals. Western systems are slowly heading back this way, asking advanced paramedics to spend less time on scene and to get patients to hospitals faster. This is a good system for Thailand and it seems to be working well.

The Victims

Finally, to all those that died this day, may you be remembered for the goodness you may have done, the love you may have given, and the way you may have touched someone else’s heart.