Incredible escapes of nightclub inferno survivors

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The Independent Online

British survivors of a horrific New Year's Eve inferno in a Bangkok nightclub spoke today of their incredible escapes.

At least 61 people were killed and more than 200 were injured, four of them Britons, in the stampede to flee the blaze which broke out at the Santika Club just after midnight.

Alex Wargacki, 29, from London, was recovering in intensive care at Bangkok's private Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital tonight.

The British foreign exchange trader, who suffered burns and smoke inhalation during the panicked evacuation of the building, said he was lucky to be alive.

He was pulled from the burning club by an unknown rescuer after collapsing as he tried to escape. He is now on a respirator to help him breathe.

Mr Wargacki, who has lived in Bangkok for four years, told The Times: "I was actually unconscious. I was trying to get out the door, but there was black smoke everywhere, then I went down.

"I thought 'there's no way I'm getting out of this, I'm dead'. But somebody pulled me out, I don't know who."

Another injured Briton, Steven Hall, from South Wales, described the dramatic scenes as the fire suddenly spread from the stage to take hold of the club.

Some revellers appeared to think the flames were part of the show and hesitated to escape, he said.

Mr Hall told CNN: "All of a sudden I saw flames billowing from the top of the stage, then along the ceiling.

"Then everybody converged towards the exit from the balconies, down the stairs area, and from the dancefloor. It was a bit like a stampede.

"It did take a few moments to realise what was going on, because it seemed as though it was part of the performance.

"But looking at the performers on stage, looking at the embers and what looked like sparks falling down on to the stage, they looked totally horrified.

"And you could feel the heat instantly came down from the ceiling.

"At the same time there were people rushing to get out, there were other people who seemed to be lacking a sense of urgency and didn't seem to realise what was going on."

Mr Hall said the speed with which the flames spread was "incredible".

His wife escaped the club ahead of him while he tried to help others.

"I tried first of all getting some people moving to get them out," he said.

"I was making my way towards the exit myself. There was somebody lying on the floor and I was dragging them out.

"The lights went out, and at that moment, my back started burning and I was breathing in hot air."

Another Briton, named as Oliver Smart, is being treated in the intensive care unit of Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital after inhaling smoke.

It is understood that the fourth British national hurt in the incident received only very minor injuries.

One report suggested that a 34-year-old British woman may have died in the tragedy, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could not confirm this.

The upmarket Santika Club, in Bangkok's Ekamai entertainment district, is popular with affluent young Thais and foreigners.

Thai police said it was packed with about 1,000 New Year's Eve revellers when the fire broke out.

Major General Chokchai Deeprasertwit, of Bangkok police, said the blaze could have been started by sparks flying from a New Year's countdown display on the club's stage.

Emergency workers said escape from the venue was made more difficult because of the shortage of exits and the fact that bars were placed across second-floor windows.

Dozens of corpses wrapped in white sheets were laid out in front of the burnt-out club. A Thai forensics expert said it could take a week to identify nearly 30 of the most badly disfigured bodies.

Officials in Bangkok said a Singaporean man was killed and at least 35 foreigners were among the injured, including people from Australia, Belgium, France, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the club and one of the hospitals where the injured are being treated.

He said: "The question is why they let someone take fireworks inside the pub and light them up."

The New Year's event, called "Goodbye Santika", was ironically to be one of the last nights before the venue closed.