Andrew Drummond and Elizabeth Gosch
September 18, 2007
ROBERT Borland was on fire and covered in aviation fuel when he was dragged from the blazing wreckage of the Phuket plane crash by a Thai passenger he calls the ‘saint in yellow”.Speaking from his Phuket hospital bed, where he is recovering from a broken arm, burns to his legs and a back injury, Mr Borland said yesterday he had been saved by a man wearing a yellow T-shirt, worn by many Thais on Mondays to honour their king.
‘The Thai man with a yellow T-shirt dragged me out on to the wing. He was like a saint to me,’ he said.
The 48-year-old, who grew up in Perth, has been living and working in Thailand for 12 years and was on the island on Boxing Day 2004 when the tsunami hit. On Sunday, he was returning to Phuket after travelling to Bangkok and Singapore on business.
‘It’s impossible to describe how lucky I was,’ he said.
Mr Borland said the One-Two-Go flight, which took off from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport at about 2.30pm on Sunday, was fairly rough.
‘The captain kept the seat-belt light on all the time. Over Phangnga Bay and James Bond Island we were flying in and out of the clouds. Occasionally you could see the island in the bay,’ he said. ‘As we approached Phuket airport, it seemed we were coming in too fast. I think the pilot decided conditions were not right, because he accelerated and pulled up. It felt like we were going up, but then we hit the ground. Everything went black – pitch-black with smoke. Then there was fire.’
Although he was suffering a broken and dislocated left arm, back injuries and burns to his legs, Mr Borland, who was sitting in seat 24F, managed to push open the emergency exit window next to him.
‘I pulled the hatch but then realised there was an inferno outside, so I pushed it back and fell to the floor,’ he said.
‘I crawled over to the other side where there was another exit and at that time I realised my trousers were on fire. I crawled to the exit door but couldn’t raise myself to get out. Then the Thai man with a yellow T-shirt dragged me out on to the wing. I slid down to the ground and saw others coming out of the exit.
‘Firemen were on the scene almost immediately, pumping foam. One took my hand and said in English, ‘You’ll be OK’. I replied in Thai, ‘I cannot move, my back is injured’.
‘Two other firemen came and dragged me through a drainage ditch, where I was picked up and taken to a local hospital where my wounds were cleaned before I was taken here.’
Mr Borland’s father, John, who lives about an hour’s drive south of Perth, said he was enormously relieved to hear his son’s voice during a phone call at lunchtime on Monday.
‘Obviously we heard about the crash last night and we’ve had updates all day, but it was a relief to speak to him,’ Mr Borland said yesterday.
‘He was quite lucid – very chipper and very impressed with the treatment he has been receiving at the hospital.’
Mr Borland said his son was working on a residential development of almost 200 units on the resort island.
‘As far as we know, he will continue to work up there, but we’d like to see him back here inAustralia to get treatment byburns specialist Fiona Wood,’ he said.
‘He was also in the tsunami, so he’s a very lucky lad.’
Robert’s mother, Muriel Robertson, was expected to fly out to see her son last night.
‘I want to go up there, make sure he’s OK, and if not I want to get him back as soon as possible and under Fiona Wood. As soon as he is capable I want him on a flight back,’ Ms Robertson said.
Mr Borland, who was born in Scotland, migrated to Perth with his family when he was nine.