Doctors struggle to identify victims in deadly van crash in Thailand

Doctors are still working to identify the 13 charred bodies - 12 of whom were Vietnamese students - in Monday's van and truck smash in Chaiyaphum's Kaeng Khro district.

A forensic physician at Khon Kaen's Srinagarind Hospital said the bodies were burned beyond recognition and all the victims' documents had been destroyed.

Dr Wirut Khunkiti said the team was waiting for forensic evidence such as dental records and DNA test results, as well as relatives' confirmation to identify the victims. So far, the cause of death had been determined for eight bodies; six died from crash injuries and two from suffocation and smoke inhalation.

The relatives' information was helpful, as a Vietnamese husband provided a picture of his deceased wife with her unique dental features, he said. Another 25-year-old Vietnamese man was identified by a double-strap wristband he wore, Wirut said. The wristband - a campaign for Thailand's unity over 116 days between Thai National Mother's Day (August 12) to National Father's Day (December 5) - had miraculously not been burnt, he added.

In Nong Bua Lamphu's Muang district, the church where an annual youth camp and seminar had been arranged for the Thai-Vietnamese youths, is now the setting for a wreath-laying ceremony to mourn and pray for the deceased.

The 12 Vietnamese students - on their way to attend the Nong Bua Lamphu church camp - and van driver Weerachai Phromsakul, 36, died after their chartered vehicle collided head-on with an 18-wheel truck in Kaeng Khro district. The van burst into flames after the smash.

As of press time, three students remain seriously injured and hospitalised. Truck driver Prayuth Leesui 35, was recovering from the injury.

Prayuth was slightly injured after his truck overturned several times. He punched his way out through the truck's windshield and rescued three van passengers.

"I saw people trapped inside the van whose front section burst into flames and I heard their calls for help, so I rushed in and pulled three men out," Prayuth recalled. "After that, the fire was burning so hot and I was afraid the van would explode so I didn't go near it anymore. But the two guys, whom I had rescued earlier, tried to help others, too, so they were seriously wounded by the explosion that followed," he added.

Kaeng Khro police chief Colonel Panas Boonyanyao said this accident was the worst-ever for fatalities on this two-lane road. Police suspect van driver Weerachai dozed off behind the wheel because there was no trace of an attempt to brake, Panas said.

The fateful van carried 12 friends (four women and eight men). The bodies were so badly burned they had to wait for identification before taking them home.