Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Entering Paradise? Be Forewarned...!

"I am proud of my girls. If there had been the slightest hint of an overdose that Thailand could have pointed to, they would have. But they were not able to prove it."
"We knew our daughters were not drug users."
Carl Belanger, Pohenegamook, Quebec
Two sisters from Quebec, Audrey 20, and Noemi 25, went on a month-long Southeast Asian vacation together in 2012. Their time away from home nearly complete, they visited Thailand's Phi Phi Islands. This was their first day in Thailand. And then, they were found dead in their room at the Phi Phi Palms Hotel by a chambermaid, two days after they were last seen alive and well.

Autopsies conducted by Thai medical authorities theorized that they had been out drinking and partying on the beach and had ingested a euphoria-inducing cocktail commonly served in Thai bars. A cocktail containing cough syrup, Coke, DEET (that's right, the chemical used as a mosquito repellent) and the mild narcotic kratom.

Now, three years after their mysterious and untimely deaths, a Quebec coroner has reached a different conclusion altogether. While the Thai theory was that DEET led to their deaths, Renee Roussel felt on the basis of her knowledge and the circumstances surrounding the girls' deaths along with her own pathological investigation that the sisters were poisoned by a deadly chemical, phosphine.

Hotels in Thailand are forbidden from using phosphine but it seems that hotels use it regardless in their battle against bed bugs. The Bangkok autopsies were set aside by Dr. Roussel; she found that the levels of DEET present in the bloodstream of the two sisters were not toxic, but no more elevated than what might be found with a light application of the insect repellent on the skin.

The exhaustive toxicological analysis performed in Montreal revealed no evidence that kratom had been consumed. Although the Montreal coroner was not able to conclusively establish what it was that killed the sisters, laboratory testing for over 800 drugs, metal and chemicals turned up nothing other than low levels of DEET along with an anti-malarial drug the sisters were taking.

The logical explanation for the absence of a detectable poison pointed in the direction of phosphine. "Few substances have the capacity to kill quickly while leaving practically no trace in the environment or in the organism allowing us to detect it. Phosphine is part of this limited group", explained Dr. Roussel.

Additional evidence were the lesions discovered on the brain by the autopsies, lesions caused by a severe lack of oxygen, consistent with phosphine poisoning. As well, pointed out Dr. Roussel, twenty Western tourists, women for the most part, have died in Southeast Asia in similar circumstances to the Belanger sisters since 2009 and the culprit appears to be phosphine.

Dr. Roussel's report recommends that Quebec's institute of public health advise travellers of the lethal danger posed by some pesticides, that advice be offered on how to detect poisoning symptoms, and the manner in which they should be treated before a fatality occurs.

In 2009, Norwegian Julie Bergheim and American Jill St.Onge, in adjacent rooms at the Laleena Guest House on Phi Phi had similar symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, blue finger- and toe- nails, and both died within 24 hours.

Ina Thoresen, Ms. Bergheim's mother, received a report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health four years later, after leading experts from around the world advised the Norwegian authorities that the most likely cause of the young woman's death was phosphine gas poisoning, released by the pesticide.

Ryan Kells, Jill St. Onge's fiance fell ill at the same time but recovered. In his recovery state officials on Phi Phi insisted he take her body away from Phi Phi lying in the bottom of a speedboat.

John Kells, Ryan's father, wrote in 2010:   ''What killed Jill St Onge and Julie Bergheim? What lethal gas almost also killed their companions Karina Refseth and Ryan Kells? 'The two absolutely linked deaths, hours apart, separated by a common wall less than six inches thick, in two back facing air conditioned rooms of the Laleena Guest House, rooms No. 4 and No. 5, one Norwegian, one American, unknown to each other, were apparently caused by the lethal inhalation of a toxic gas that has not been identified. Young adventurous explorers like Jill, Julie, Ryan and Karina, from countries all over the world, travel to the island of Kho Phi Phi, described as one of the most beautiful spots on earth as featured in the film 'The Beach', staring Leonardo DiCaprio, believe that they are safe and expect to travel home with exotic memories and not the ashes of the love of their lives or the one that they intended to marry. One thing we do believe is that both Julie and Jill had elevated blood levels of cholinesterase inhibitor, a likely sign of pesticide gas poisoning, as suggested by a couple of research experts asked to comment on the blood results. We also know that the implied causes investigated by the Thailand authorities such as alcohol and drugs have been eliminated as potential causes of death. All of the investigative effort thus far has focused on life style causes and to our knowledge no effort has been expended to determine if a pesticide might have been the lethal agent.''

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