Third inquest but disputed death remains a mystery

Bua Ngoen Thongsi.


The mysterious death nearly four years ago of a Thai scuba diver in New Zealand has been re-examined by a third inquest in light of new evidence – including claims that a crew member on her dive-boat expressed the hope that her body would never be found.

Bua-Ngoen Thongsi, 37, who lived in Christchurch on South Island, disappeared while diving for crayfish off the North Canterbury coast in February 2015.

Two days later her body was recovered from the 10m-deep seabed, only 100m from where she had last been seen.

Her equipment was found to be fully functioning and her air-cylinder almost full. A medical expert said there was nothing to suggest that she had any health problems.

The first inquest was held this June and the case was then reopened two months later, with Coroner Brigitte Windley expressing concerns about conflicting testimony from the boat skipper and crew-members.

Although police had stated that no new charges would be laid, a third inquest has now been held to consider evidence from a new, anonymous witness.

According to reports in local press the witness claims to have met one of the crew, an old friend, shortly after Thongsi’s disappearance and been told that “there was nothing we could do for her, we just had to let her go”. The crewman allegedly told his friend that he hoped Thongsi’s body would not be found so that “they can’t work out what happened”.

They had spoken again after her body was found, the inquest heard, when the man was alleged to have said: “The sea has taken care of it; they can’t prove anything.”

Thongsi was originally reported to have resurfaced complaining that her octopus was leaking air. The skipper, an experienced diver, had fixed the problem while she stayed in the water, and a second crew-member had then guided her to the stern.

He described her sinking backwards lifelessly like a “rag doll” – although the skipper claimed to have known she had been breathing on descent because he had seen her bubbles.

According to crew, when it appeared that Thongsi was in trouble, the skipper had kitted up and dived in to find her. The skipper originally told police that he had resurfaced soon afterwards because it was too murky to see anything, but later changed his story, saying that although visibility was up to 3m, he had come back up after only 30 seconds because he had forgotten to turn on his air supply. He hadn’t gone back down because he thought it would be too late by then.

The Coroner expressed frustration that even after three hearings it remained unclear who had deflated Thongsi’s BC, why the search for her had been so brief, and why it took another hour for emergency services to be called. She has reserved her findings.



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