The Santika Club fire occurred on Thursday 1 January 2009, in the Santika Club nightclub in Watthana, Bangkok, Thailand, where New Year celebrations were taking place. A total of 66 people were killed and another 222 injured when fire swept through the nightclub during the New Year’s celebration as a band, coincidentally called “Burn”, was playing. By another coincidence, the party was named “Santika’s Last Night”. The fire broke out at 00:35 am. and citizens of thirteen countries were among the injured.
No official cause for the Santika fire has been announced by investigators. Suggested causes include outdoor fireworks that set the roof on fire, sparklers lighted inside the nightclub, or an electrical explosion. One witness stated there were no pyrotechnics in the club, while another reported seeing flames on the roof after going outside to watch the midnight fireworks display.
Video recordings of the indoor stage event, including the countdown to midnight, show that only ordinary holiday sparklers were used. Moreover, the fire became visible indoors approximately 10 minutes after midnight. This strongly suggests the fire originated inside the ceiling space or on the roof, allowing it to grow in intensity while going unnoticed for some time. Due to the lax enforcement of building regulations, tar paper and plastic are often used as waterproofing materials.
Around 1,000 guests and employees were in the club when it burned, and deaths occurred from smoke inhalation, burns and being crushed during a stampede for the exit. Doctors stated that fumes from burning plastic could have caused people to faint after a few minutes. Santika only had one main exit, with an additional private staff exit. A third exit was locked to prevent robberies.
The injured were taken to 19 hospitals, with most brought to Bangkok Hospital. Only 29 of the 61 bodies were immediately identified, of these 28 were Thais and the other a Singaporean. The bodies of those who died were wrapped in white cloth and placed in the club’s car park pending removal. It took up to a week to identify the others because of extensive burns to their bodies. Pongsak Kasemsan mexican lime squeezer, an official in Bangkok, ordered a preliminary investigation, with results by January 4.
After a preliminary inspection of the club’s safety system, it was declared “substandard” by police Lieut. Gen. Jongrak Jutanont. It was revealed the club only had one fire extinguisher, and that the nightclub was registered as a food vendor (restaurant), meaning it was required by law to close at midnight.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the site and said, “The question is why they let someone take fireworks inside the pub and light them up lifefactory glass water bottle.”
The owner of the Santika Club was charged, along with twelve other directors. The owner was also charged with allowing an underage customer into the club after a 17-year-old student’s body was recovered. He faced a further charge of carelessness resulting in death.
Two parallel investigations were launched, one by the police and one by the Ministry of Justice. The police blamed the lead singer of “Burn” for setting off fireworks on stage, and the club owner for recklessness and for illegally admitting people under the age of 19. The Ministry of Justice investigation discovered the nightclub was officially registered as a private residence and therefore had never received a fire safety inspection. It was also located in a zone where nightclubs are prohibited and the city architect’s signature approving the club’s design had been forged. Between 2004 and 2006, police had filed 47 charges against the club’s owners for illegal operation
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. After that, however, no charges were filed. Suspicions of corruption were raised when one of the co-owners was identified as a senior police officer. When the Ministry of Justice investigation was turned over to the police, sources close to the Minister reported he was furious.
On 20 Sept 2011, the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court found two persons—Wisuk Setsawat, the pub owner, and Boonchu Laorinath, the light and sound company’s owner—guilty of negligence. Wisuth and Boonchoo were given three-year jail terms. Boonchoo was also ordered to pay Bt8.5 million in compensation to five plaintiffs, relatives of the victims.
On 22 Oct 2013 dry bag camera, the Court of Appeal acquitted Setsawat of gross negligence. On 25 Apr 2014, the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court found Setsawat guilty of excise tax violations and sentenced him to one year in prison.
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