Corpse confusion: mix-up in Phuket morgue

PHUKET: Mourners at the funeral of a British man in Chalong were shocked to discover that the corpse handed over to them by staff at Vachira Phuket Hospital was not his, but that of an unidentified Westerner.

William John “Bill” Young, 61, of Ipswich, England, passed away in his sleep on Friday, September 3, a friend told the Gazette.

Friends of Mr Young, who was a well-known and experienced marine engineer living in Chalong, went to Vachira Phuket Hospital with his widow on Tuesday to retrieve the body for the funeral ceremony, a friend said.

At the Vachira morgue, the group were taken to a body on a gurney in the reception area and told by staff that it was Mr Young.

One friend of 20 years said that as they pulled back the sheet, “I was shocked to see my old friend looking so bad, even for a dead bloke. He looked unrecognizable – much thinner.”

Their suspicions were assuaged by Vachira staff, who assured them that the “unrecognizable” body on the gurney was indeed that of their friend.

Another cause for concern arose when a staff member gave them a bag said to contain Bill’s belongings. They were not his things, the friend said.

Saying they would find his belongings later, staff loaded “Bill” into a coffin. The remains were taken to Wat Lati Wanaram in Chalong for his scheduled funeral service.

After they arrived, the coffin lid was taken off for photographs. The mourners, immediately surprised by the condition and appearance of the body, began to question whether or not it really was that of their friend Mr Young.

Many theories were put forward, but the prevailing sentiment was that the body was not that of Mr Young.

The family of Mr Young’s wife removed the bracelet on the body and discovered that it listed the identify of the deceased as “unknown”, with an estimated age of 35.

By that point, the monks were already chanting as word spread that the body was not Mr Young’s.

A friend called Chalong police to report the incident.

Shortly thereafter they received a call from Vachira Hospital confirming their suspicions: they had been given the wrong body.

They were asked by Vachira to bring the body back to the mortuary, where they could “swap” it for the real remains of their departed friend.

The friend said, “Some people were angry and others were laughing. Bill would have said, ‘I’m not surprised, are you?’ – and we were not.”

The unidentified body was loaded into a private vehicle and taken back to Vachira Hospital, where hospital staff apologized wholeheartedly for the mix-up, the friend said.

Dr Weerawat Yorsaengrat, deputy director of Vachira Phuket Hospital told the Gazette, “We admitted it was our mistake and rushed to prepare the body [Mr Young’s] for them to pick up before nightfall. In Thai culture it’s considered bad to take a body out at night.

His wife came to pick up the body. She understood the mistake and even thanked us for hurrying to send the body out. Vachira Hospital apologizes to the family for this mistake,” Dr Weerawat said.

After retrieving the correct body, friends and family of Mr Young took his remains to the temple, where the cremation ceremony took place Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Young arrived on Phuket in 1991, working with a Norwegian tour boat company. He was well-known in Chalong, where he was often consulted for his expertise in marine engineering.

He is survived by his wife of five years, his friend said.

In response to questions about the unidentified body, Dr Weerawat told the Gazette that such mix-ups most often occur in cases when unidentified bodies are brought to the hospital by police.

It is normal for the Vachira morgue to house the remains of at least one unidentified Caucasian foreigner, he said.

— N. Altstadt & S. Nongkaew

Phuket News

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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