German tourist killed while elephant trekking in Krabi
A German woman has been killed in controversial circumstances in an elephant trekking tragedy in the province of Krabi, not far from Phuket, say police. Details are emerging of the precise cause of her death.
Early reports carried by international news outlets said the tragedy occurred when the elephant slipped and the woman's heavy-set husband fell on top of her as the pair landed.
But the investigating policeman in Krabi told Phuketwan tonight that the woman fell to the ground alone after the elephant's minder - known as a mahout - tried to tighten the elephant's underbelly cinch straps.
First reports, now in doubt, said that Kerstin Kretz Schmar, 52, was riding the elephant when it slipped on a wet trail and the couple fell to the ground.
Local policeman Chatchai Nakpaksee is quoted as saying in the early reports that the woman's husband Joachim also fell and landed on top of her.
Doctors were quoted as saying that Ms Schmar died from a punctured lung.
However, this version of events was disputed tonight by Lieutenant Chartchai in an interview with Phuketwan.
He said that after three-and-a-half hours of interviewing the other members in the seven-person elephant trekking party - all relatives of the deceased - he had come to the conclusion that the mahout's attempt to adjust the cinch belt had led to the tragedy.
The mahout, walking alongside the elephant, tried to adjust the cinch when the timber howdah on the elephant's back tilted to 45 degrees.
But as the timber seat frame showed signs of slipping even more, the German woman panicked and tried to grab hold of her husband.
At that point she tumbled off the elephant's back, Lieutenant Chartchai said.
A sister of the woman - believed to be a nurse - attempted to revive Mrs Schmar but she died after 20 minutes. An autopsy is scheduled to be conducted in the neighboring province of Surat Thani.
Some elephant trekking companies on Phuket and in the nearby provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga make sure that passengers riding elephants are strapped onto their timber frame howdahs on the elephant's back with seat-belt style restraints.
One tourist has been killed and two other tourists have been seriously injured on Phuket and in Phang Nga over the past two years in male elephant rampages.
The cause is usually a condition known as musth, when male elephants become unsafe to ride. The overwhelming majority of tourist trek elephants on Phuket and in Krabi and Phang Nga are female.
Police investigations into the fall that occurred about 5.30pm on Tuesday in the hills near Krabi Town are continuing.