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from the Electronic Telegraph, London
elephant suddenly lunged at us'
By Alex Spillius and Nigel Bunyan
April 26, 2001
A FATHER spoke yesterday about the terrifying moment that a performing elephant killed his 20-year-old daughter after clambering into the audience at a Thai tourist attraction.
Geoffrey Taylor, 51, had been sitting with his daughter, Andrea, and her sister, Helen, 23, when the bull elephant suddenly attacked in a village near the seaside resort of Pattaya. Mr Taylor, a widower, of Billinge, near Wigan, Greater Manchester, survived serious injuries to his legs. But neither he nor his other daughter could do anything to save Andrea.
Miss Taylor, a trainee nurse, died from massive blood loss despite being driven by car to hospital. News of her death was broken to her father by British embassy officials after he came out of surgery. From his hospital bed he said last night: "The elephants had done their usual tricks. It was about 4pm and we were sitting in the front row. It suddenly lunged at the three of us. You know the size of them.
"It was just digging its tusks into us - into my younger daughter's intestines. We tried to help her but it just knocked us out of the way and just kept really goring into her. There was total panic and blood everywhere. It was terrifying. I knew I'd been hurt but I didn't know to what extent until I saw a gaping wound in my leg."
The family were rushed to the nearby Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital by car. Mr Taylor, a regular visitor to Thailand, said: "The girls were screaming and the driver was going through red lights and everything." Part of the tragedy at Non Nooch, a village just outside Pattaya, was captured on an amateur video and later broadcast on Thai television.
This showed mahouts, or handlers, standing on the tusks of several elephants as part of a trick. The camera then cut abruptly to the bull elephant stretching over the ledge towards the audience. It was digging at the ground with its tusks. A woman's body could be seen on the ground, with other tourists scrambling away from the elephant in panic.
Dr Pichit Kangwolkij, director of the hospital, said Miss Taylor's injuries put her into shock. "Surgery was performed right away for about three hours. She was given 13 units of blood but we were unable to save her."
Last night there were unconfirmed reports that Miss Taylor had been teasing the elephant with a banana moments before it lunged towards her. Sethaphan Buddhani, a Pattaya-based director of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, said the elephant's mahout had claimed that Miss Taylor tried to feed the elephant a banana and then teased it by twice pulling back her hand.
He said: "The manager said the elephant tried to grab the banana and hit her. Everybody tried to run away and the elephant thought he was in danger." Such a serious attack was unprecedented in the 30 years that the elephant village had been operating, said Mr Buddhani. The bull elephant involved had grown up there with its mahout.
Other reports suggested that the elephant, which was later recaptured, had initially attacked another animal's mahout before clambering towards the audience. As Helen Taylor remained in intensive care last night, Michelle Barrow, 26, her housemate in Sutton, St Helens, Merseyside, said: "I was stunned when I heard. It is awful. Totally unbelievable."
The family had only been in Thailand for a week, said Miss Barrow. "Andrea was looking forward to the holiday the most. She had never been to Thailand before and I think it was the first time they had been away as a family since her Mum died four years ago. Helen is a really outgoing bubbly person. She will talk to anybody and anyone. Andrea was a bit quieter but still a good laugh.
"I have spoken to members of the family and they say there is a good chance that Helen will be all right. They have not told Helen that Andrea has died. They just want her to concentrate on getting better. They are protecting her from the truth just yet."
Alan Firth, 21, a close friend of the dead woman, described her as "fun, full of life - dizzy". Andrea Taylor was a keen musician who had played the trombone in several brass bands. Before going to study nursing in Huddersfield, West Yorks, she had been a pupil of Up Holland High School.
The owners of the showground put an iron fence around its perimeter yesterday. Sodawan Buranasiri, deputy director of Nong Nooch, said staff were "shocked and sad". The park had accepted responsibility for the Taylors' medical costs but still had "no idea" why the elephant attacked. "I think it was confused," she said.
Reports in the Thai media suggested the camp's owners might be charged with recklessness over the death. Meanwhile Paveena Hongsakul, Thailand's tourism minister, has ordered a tightening of security at 700 similar venues. He has also directed elephant owners to feed their animals properly before a show.
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