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Video: Por Tek Tung - The Thai Body Snatchers

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Por Tek Tung - The Body Snatchers

Fighting for a Gory Prize - A Race to the Death in Thailand

Play video clip (Courtesy: Channel 4, UK)

(Windows Media Player)

They are not rewarded with money, but Karma - as many volunteers believe the work is good for their soul

BANGKOK: -- Sidestepping stains of blood and car fluid on the road, Niroot Sampi crunched across broken windshield glass to survey the crumpled and steaming wrecks of two cars.

"It's not really that bad," Mr. Niroot said. "Nobody died."

That's how it goes in the world of Por Tek Tung, Thailand's premier group of professional body snatchers.

Careering around Bangkok in battered pickup trucks, the organization's minimally trained members serve as doctor and hearse for accident victims in a city that has almost no emergency services.

These are no dreamy-eyed do-gooders: Fistfights occasionally erupt when rival organizations try to tug bodies from the same road accident.

"You can't just have people die and be left on the streets," Mr. Niroot said. "People must retrieve bodies and treat them with due respect."

Financed by donations, Mr. Niroot's group and a dozen other teams take to the streets at dusk each evening to circle their designated section of the city. A great deal of time is also spent sitting at gas stations waiting for news of wrecks.

"Friday nights near the end of the month are busiest," Mr. Niroot said above the crackle of the car radio. "People get paid their salary and then drink and drive fast."

Mr. Niroot, who has donned the organization's distinctive jumpsuit uniform for four years, finds great satisfaction in a grim job that earns him 6,000 baht a month, about $135

Founded early in the last century by Chinese immigrants, Por Tek Tung began by providing free funeral services to the destitute. As Thailand developed and industrialized, however, the group's efforts turned to collecting the dead from car wrecks, airplane crashes, floods, suicides and murder scenes.

A gory gallery of death outside the organization's headquarters features photographs of mutilated, burned and dismembered bodies recovered and delivered to hospital morgues. The intention of the display, officials said, is to attract donations by showing the group's good works.

Many members of the organization are volunteers who believe the work can help them accumulate karma for physical protection in this life and improve their next incarnation.

Competition over bodies has occasionally proved intense enough for rival groups to resort to violence. The police once fired warning shots to stop 40 Por Tek Tung collectors armed with wooden clubs and hammers from fighting six collectors from a rival group.

Mr. Niroot took part in one of the most famous confrontations, in which half a dozen body snatchers were hospitalized after fighting over a motorcyclist's body.

"It is very ugly fighting over a body, but I would do it again," Mr. Niroot said, describing how he split open a rival's head with a piece of wood after knives and a gun had been drawn. "These other groups just take bodies to the morgue in order for fame; they do not have enough money or desire to register the body properly."

While many in Thailand suggest more worldly motivations for the fights over bodies, Por Tek Tung employees react with indignation at any suggestion of pillage. Thais often conserve a considerable portion of their wealth in thick gold necklaces, but few bodies arrive at morgues with jewelry of any kind.

"Things go missing by the time a body gets to the morgue, but this has nothing to do with Por Tek Tung employees," said Kurom Buaphoom, who has worked for five years at the organization. "We cannot always control the volunteers. I am sorry we get accused of this."

All employees are required to have a clean police record, but many find the toughest part of the job is overcoming a deep-rooted fear of ghosts.

"Most Thai people fear touching bodies because of ghosts," Mr. Niroot said. "I protect myself with my beliefs and a pendant."

To pass the time while waiting for an accident, Mr. Niroot recounts the bloodiest accidents of his career in horrific and unprintable detail. Death by motorcycle features prominently, as does the suicide of young people involving methamphetamines, an illegal drug Thais commonly called yaa baa, or crazy drug.

"I think I was saddest after one accident where four people were killed," Mr. Niroot said. "Two people died instantly and two others while we tried to pull them out of the car."

For all his enthusiasm about helping injured people, Mr. Niroot has the emergency medical training typical of Por Tek Tung employees: almost none. But even without medical equipment or training, doctors welcome the group in a city critically short of emergency vehicles and trained technicians.

"The body snatchers often have no medical knowledge," said Dr. Somchai Kanchanasut, director of the Rajavithi Hospital's emergency medical services center. "But they always arrive first in Bangkok, and we are trying to teach them how to transport people better."

Dr. Somchai's center is one of only two medical emergency transport centers in Bangkok. With just 35 advanced life support system ambulances serving Bangkok's 5.8 million people, there is only one ambulance for every 165,000 people. This compares with a level of one advanced life support vehicle for every 10,000 people in most developed countries.

A further hindrance to emergency vehicles, Bangkok's traffic gridlock, prompted the creation of an elite corps of motorcycle police trained to deliver babies in taxis.

"An ambulance sent out for someone with chest pains will arrive half an hour after they died of a heart attack," Dr. Somchai said. "Most life-threatening cases arrive at the hospital by taxi."

Reaching speeds of up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) an hour while weaving down crowded city streets and arriving first on the scene appear to be the highest priorities of Por Tek Tung. Responding to news of a drunken fight in a temple, several of the organization's souped-up white pickup trucks converge at high speed on Wat Uphai Ratnamrong.

While sirens blare, passengers in the back of the truck hold on as the vehicle swerves across intersections and up back alleys. Mr. Niroot loves the race and cannot recall any fatal accidents en route to an incident.

Despite the fast driving, the fight is over and blood is smeared across the temple's white marble floor. A body, stabbed 20 times in the chest, lies on the floor. As the dead man's adversary is taken into police custody, Por Tek Tung gets down to work.

The crowd is moved back, but newspaper photographers are allowed to record the crime scene even before police begin measuring, marking the floor and taking notes. With all details of the murder scene recorded, Por Tek Tung employees carefully wrap the body in a white cloth and place it in the back of a pickup truck for delivery to the police morgue.

"I feel pity from the suffering I see each day," Mr. Niroot said. "But I am proud of my job and like the work because I know it is good for society." Sidestepping stains of blood and car fluid on the road, Niroot Sampi crunched across broken windshield glass to survey the crumpled and steaming wrecks of two cars.

"It's not really that bad," Mr. Niroot said. "Nobody died."

That's how it goes in the world of Por Tek Tung, Thailand's premier group of professional body snatchers.

Careering around Bangkok in battered pickup trucks, the organization's minimally trained members serve as doctor and hearse for accident victims in a city that has almost no emergency services.

These are no dreamy-eyed do-gooders: Fistfights occasionally erupt when rival organizations try to tug bodies from the same road accident.

"You can't just have people die and be left on the streets," Mr. Niroot said. "People must retrieve bodies and treat them with due respect."

Financed by donations, Mr. Niroot's group and a dozen other teams take to the streets at dusk each evening to circle their designated section of the city. A great deal of time is also spent sitting at gas stations waiting for news of wrecks.

"Friday nights near the end of the month are busiest," Mr. Niroot said above the crackle of the car radio. "People get paid their salary and then drink and drive fast."

Mr. Niroot, who has donned the organization's distinctive jumpsuit uniform for four years, finds great satisfaction in a grim job that earns him 6,000 baht a month, about $135

Founded early in the last century by Chinese immigrants, Por Tek Tung began by providing free funeral services to the destitute. As Thailand developed and industrialized, however, the group's efforts turned to collecting the dead from car wrecks, airplane crashes, floods, suicides and murder scenes.

A gory gallery of death outside the organization's headquarters features photographs of mutilated, burned and dismembered bodies recovered and delivered to hospital morgues. The intention of the display, officials said, is to attract donations by showing the group's good works.

Many members of the organization are volunteers who believe the work can help them accumulate karma for physical protection in this life and improve their next incarnation.

Competition over bodies has occasionally proved intense enough for rival groups to resort to violence. The police once fired warning shots to stop 40 Por Tek Tung collectors armed with wooden clubs and hammers from fighting six collectors from a rival group.

Mr. Niroot took part in one of the most famous confrontations, in which half a dozen body snatchers were hospitalized after fighting over a motorcyclist's body.

"It is very ugly fighting over a body, but I would do it again," Mr. Niroot said, describing how he split open a rival's head with a piece of wood after knives and a gun had been drawn. "These other groups just take bodies to the morgue in order for fame; they do not have enough money or desire to register the body properly."

While many in Thailand suggest more worldly motivations for the fights over bodies, Por Tek Tung employees react with indignation at any suggestion of pillage. Thais often conserve a considerable portion of their wealth in thick gold necklaces, but few bodies arrive at morgues with jewelry of any kind.

"Things go missing by the time a body gets to the morgue, but this has nothing to do with Por Tek Tung employees," said Kurom Buaphoom, who has worked for five years at the organization. "We cannot always control the volunteers. I am sorry we get accused of this."

All employees are required to have a clean police record, but many find the toughest part of the job is overcoming a deep-rooted fear of ghosts.

"Most Thai people fear touching bodies because of ghosts," Mr. Niroot said. "I protect myself with my beliefs and a pendant."

To pass the time while waiting for an accident, Mr. Niroot recounts the bloodiest accidents of his career in horrific and unprintable detail. Death by motorcycle features prominently, as does the suicide of young people involving methamphetamines, an illegal drug Thais commonly called yaa baa, or crazy drug.

"I think I was saddest after one accident where four people were killed," Mr. Niroot said. "Two people died instantly and two others while we tried to pull them out of the car."

For all his enthusiasm about helping injured people, Mr. Niroot has the emergency medical training typical of Por Tek Tung employees: almost none. But even without medical equipment or training, doctors welcome the group in a city critically short of emergency vehicles and trained technicians.

"The body snatchers often have no medical knowledge," said Dr. Somchai Kanchanasut, director of the Rajavithi Hospital's emergency medical services center. "But they always arrive first in Bangkok, and we are trying to teach them how to transport people better."

Dr. Somchai's center is one of only two medical emergency transport centers in Bangkok. With just 35 advanced life support system ambulances serving Bangkok's 5.8 million people, there is only one ambulance for every 165,000 people. This compares with a level of one advanced life support vehicle for every 10,000 people in most developed countries.

A further hindrance to emergency vehicles, Bangkok's traffic gridlock, prompted the creation of an elite corps of motorcycle police trained to deliver babies in taxis.

"An ambulance sent out for someone with chest pains will arrive half an hour after they died of a heart attack," Dr. Somchai said. "Most life-threatening cases arrive at the hospital by taxi."

Reaching speeds of up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) an hour while weaving down crowded city streets and arriving first on the scene appear to be the highest priorities of Por Tek Tung. Responding to news of a drunken fight in a temple, several of the organization's souped-up white pickup trucks converge at high speed on Wat Uphai Ratnamrong.

While sirens blare, passengers in the back of the truck hold on as the vehicle swerves across intersections and up back alleys. Mr. Niroot loves the race and cannot recall any fatal accidents en route to an incident.

Despite the fast driving, the fight is over and blood is smeared across the temple's white marble floor. A body, stabbed 20 times in the chest, lies on the floor. As the dead man's adversary is taken into police custody, Por Tek Tung gets down to work.

The crowd is moved back, but newspaper photographers are allowed to record the crime scene even before police begin measuring, marking the floor and taking notes. With all details of the murder scene recorded, Por Tek Tung employees carefully wrap the body in a white cloth and place it in the back of a pickup truck for delivery to the police morgue.

"I feel pity from the suffering I see each day," Mr. Niroot said. "But I am proud of my job and like the work because I know it is good for society." Sidestepping stains of blood and car fluid on the road, Niroot Sampi crunched across broken windshield glass to survey the crumpled and steaming wrecks of two cars.

--IHT 2006-08-26

Play video clip (Courtesy: Channel 4, UK)

(Windows Media Player)

--

Credit to daleyboy for finding this story. Thanks!

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What makes it even more crazy is the fact they actually fight over the bodies.The article is talking about 40 in an argument over who was getting the bodies. :D I would imagine to the bystander watching something like that would be like watching a pack of wild dogs fighting over fresh kill

TIT :o

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instead of ambulance chaser, we have chaser ambulances.

....racing to an accident scene at full speed. That could be someone's son or daughter getting whacked by the speeding blood stained pick-up. Broken bodies at the scene get slung in to backs of pick-ups - with nary a thought to exacerbating vertebrae dislocations.

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Discovery had a show on them a few years back.Pretty graphic.Have you also noticed no one really moves over for ambulances.

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Trippy this is, why don't they teach the drivers to pull over to let ambulances through?

hel_l, people don't even pull over in some places in the western world.

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Since they decided to use the shoulders of the roads as an additional lane, it doesn't leave traffic anywhere to go should an emergency vehicle wish to get through.

As if it were going to happen anyway...

jb

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im a 23 year veteran fire fighter and have to deal with this very situation.

im also a veteran traveller,

the only thing that worrys me about travelling in asia, is car or bus accidents and being trapped in one.

my station has a response time of 7 minutes, so you know that im coming to help you real quick. :D

that ain't going to happen in los or most asian countries.

ive was in a head on collission in phuket one year between my taxi and a police car.

very bloody lucky i was, girl in the front split her head open, they threw her in the back of an open pick up and off they went.

point being, the ambulance was a long way away and its a case of hurry up and wait.

i always fly now, as airasia is very cheap and i never have to worry about road accidents.

cheers friends :o

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My son was 'picked up' by this organisation after being seriously hurt in a motorcyle accident. By the time he reached the hospital, his shoes, wallet, watch and gold chain had all dissappeared. This left the hospital unable to contact me until he was in a fit condition to communicate. This took three days.

When they come scrounging to my door for money they get a very short two word anser. **** off!

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These fondations hold the bodies for randsome and then the personal article are sold.

:o

This is utter bullshit.

The foundations send the corpses to the morgue, if so demanded by the police officer in charge, otherwise the corpses are left with the relatives. The relatives can ask for free coffins at the headquarters of the foundation. Unclaimed corpses are given a free burial at the foundation's graveyards, and every couple of years a free collective funeral.

Relatives can later claim a corpse that is buried in their graveyards, but it is not the foundation who holds the corpse at ransom, but the hospitals refuse to have the corpse handed over in case of unpaid bills.

As to the posted story, it contains numerous mistakes and inaccuracies.

The yellow clothed personal with monthly salaries number around 200 people, the volonteers, the original base of the Por Teck Tueng more than 3000. The medical training has over the years improved a lot, they have to attand regular courses in EMS.

As to the thefts - they do occasionally happen, but every vocation has its bad apples. If this happens the Foundation is glad when this is brought to their attantion so that the case can be investigated and the guilty can be thrown out and a case with the police can be filed. Often though the thefts that Por Teck Tueng volonteers are accused of have not been committed by them. Bystanders are often first at the scene, and do steal the valuables. Thefts happen in hospitals as well. In suburban areas are fake rescue troops as well who try to get to the injured before the official rescue volonteers arrive.

Corpses are generally stripped off their valuables before being sent to the morgue, and the valuables are given to the police officer in charge, or the relatives, if present.

Fights over corpses do not happen anymore in Bangkok since about 15 years, when the authorities and the two main rival organisations have sorted out territories and shifts. Nowadays Por Teck Tueng and Ruamkatanyu work on alternating days.

Things aren't perfect, of course. There are at times territorial fights happening. But one has to understand that the volonteers of the foundation have to have a certain amount of respect on the streets. These volonteers do have to pull dead and injured from the roughest neighborhoods in town, if people there don't fear them, their work cannot be performed because of the danger of being attacked by the gangs.

And yes, it would be nice if the would be better equipped and trained, but people should not forget that the volonteers do finance everything themselves, use their own cars, buy their own petrol and medical eqippment. Nobody gives them anything.

Without these foundations there simply would be no functioning EMS system in Thailand.

The response time is of course not as fast as in the west, but this is not the west, this is a developing country, and for that the response time and the whole system is very good. I am not aware of any statistics on the response time, but my personal experience, being with the Por Teck Tueng for over six years, is that we are in inner Bangkok rarely slower than ten minutes from the point of getting the call.

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In Metropolitan Bangkok where accident cases outnumbers the emergency services that the city can speedily handled, these voluntary services supplement this shortage. To some this is for a good cause. In Malaysia where I lived some Rich Chineses would willingly take turn to take up the cost of funeral services for the poors. They believes it is for a good deed.

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In Metropolitan Bangkok where accident cases outnumbers the emergency services that the city can speedily handled, these voluntary services supplement this shortage. To some this is for a good cause.

Actually, there is no functioning city EMS service in Bangkok. The city service that the Ministry of Health has introduced a few years ago is not working, and partly consists of volonteers as well, more often than not volonteers that have been thrown out of the two foundations for misdeeds such as thefts, being drunk on duty, etc.

The foundations don't supplement the shortage (there actually is no shortage - there are more people who would like to become rescue volonteers than the foundations can accept), they are the only functioning system.

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BANGKOK 18 November 2017 17:31
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