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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mad dash saves boy plucked from flames

Mad dash saves boy plucked from flames

THE motorcycle sped towards the hospital in the pouring rain, driven by a barefoot

fortuneteller and carrying a carpenter cradling a bleeding boy. This unlikely crew

managed to reach medical help in time to save the child, making him one of two survivors

- both children - of the Vietnam Airlines crash.

"As soon as we heard the plane explode, we started running. I was wearing

my shorts and no shoes," said Sim Viklay, a popular soothsayer at Wat Kok Banh

Chon, about 1km from the crash site.

"When we got there, there were only about ten other people around. I stood around

for about five minutes, watching, and I thought that probably all the passengers

were dead," continued Ly Yen, a carpenter at the wat.

"We were standing far away from the plane, as we were afraid it might explode

because it was on fire. Then I heard the boy crying. I saw he was near the middle

of the plane, lying on the ground near some parts that were burning," he said.

"I went straight away to pick up the boy while she [Sim Viklay] ran back to

get her moto."

Viklay drove her Honda Dream as fast as she could through rice paddies in the pouring

rain towards Kossamak Hospital while Ly Yen held the bleeding boy.

"It was raining very hard, the boy was crying and crying. I pitied him very

much, and I wanted to keep him if he was parentless, as I loved him, and I have no

children of my own," she said. "He was crying and saying, 'Meh, Meh, Meh,'

like calling for his mother."

The child had head injuries, the rescuers said, and was wearing a camouflage vest

and shorts. These details match the description of four-year-old Vu Hung Thinh, brought

to Kossamak Hospital on the afternoon of Sept 3 and identified as a victim of the

crash. His mother, Vu Thi Hao, was killed.

"When we arrived at the hospital, I carried him in and told people he had been

in the plane crash," explained Ly Yen. "If I didn't describe the event,

maybe the hospital people wouldn't have saved him without needing money."

Both Ly Yen and Sim Viklay then went home to change out of their drenched and bloodstained

clothing. They went back in the morning to discover the boy had been moved first

to Calmette and then to Kantha Bopha Hospital.

Journalists making the rounds of the hospitals had seen the boy at Kossamak at about

8 pm and took him to Calmette. The doctor on duty at Kossamak had agreed that there

was nothing more that he could do for him other than bandage his head wounds, give

him antibiotics and saline solution.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, the Vietnamese boy - whose family live in Cambodia

- was asking for his mother and for water in Khmer.

Once at Calmette, he was given a head x-ray. When the boy remained unconscious for

some time without examination, Kantha Bopha children's hospital director Dr Beat

Richner was contacted, and agreed to accept the boy.

He and his staff frenetically administered blood, antibiotics, and anti-edema medication

- to prevent fluid developing on the brain - and dressed his burns and scrapes. Administered

oxygen through his nostril, the boy regained consciousness and yelped 'go back' in

Vietnamese.

His condition was critical but improving slightly until his father, a Singaporean

businessman, arrived from abroad Sept 5. Once the two were reunited, his condition

improved dramatically. He was released from hospital Sept 10.

Apart from Vu Hung Thinh, the only other survivor was another child: 14-month-old

Thai boy Chanayuth Nim-anong, who suffered broken legs. His mother also died in the

crash.

Chanayuth's father, Niphon, was waiting for his wife and son at the airport at the

time. He spotted a rescuer holding up his son, and brought him to Calmette Hospital.

The boy was evacuated to Bangkok the next morning.

Fortuneteller Sim Viklay, meanwhile, said she had tried to see Vu Hung Thinh at Kantha

Bopha hospital, but there were others already visiting him when she arrived.

She went home and since has given her description of events to several crash investigators.

"Afterward, I went with a group of villagers to the site and performed a religious

ceremony for the dead," Sim Viklay added, puffing on a 555 cigarette and tossing

her white robe over her shoulder. Although she spoke to the Post while possessed

by her "goddess" spirit, she was fortunately able to recount her own very

human heroics.

She is not a religious figure, but she does her fortune telling at a well-known shrine

at the wat. Most afternoons dozens of people, both villagers and wealthy Phnom Penhois,

queue up to sit eagerly at her feet listening to her prophecies.

She did not mention whether she had foreseen the crash. Nevertheless, her quick action

after the accident may well have saved little Vu Hung Thinh's life.

"At that time, it was about to rain, and the boy's face was blue and yellow,"

said Ly Yen. "There were no police, no journalists there. If we had not saved

the boy, he would be dead."

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