Sunday, July 13, 1997
The life line that would pull them out of the 15th floor of Thailand’s towering inferno was just out of reach, so Rochelle Stein-Salmi of Branford, Conn., borrowed her daughter’s brown teddy bear to hook the line that saved their lives.
The rescue of Salmi, 50, and her 7-year-old daughter, Rebecca, from a luxury Thai hotel that was turned into a death trap was seen on television around the world.
Rebecca swung out first on the rope harness, her teddy safely tucked under one arm.
Her mother went next, nearly tumbling out of the leg harness when she first pushed off the window ledge.
They were pulled safely to the roof.
“Well, I’ve seen it on television eight times, and I’ve seen it in the newspaper twice this morning, and I can’t stop crying,” Salmi’s sister Melanie Stein Wolf said in the family’s home.
Her voice broke and she sobbed again. “I guess it is the danger as well as the joy. We are very, very glad she is alive,” Wolf said.
Salmi, who grew up in Huntington, L.I., and Rebecca were among the lucky ones to survive the fire Friday in the Royal Jomtien Resort Hotel in the beach city of Pattaya.
The death toll reached 84 yesterday as searchers continued to find bodies piled up at exits that were padlocked by the hotel to prevent guests from skipping out on their bills.
Wolf said it was her sister’s resourcefulness that saved her life.
“My sister was very very smart. She used a wet cloth over her mouth. She used the teddy bear to extend her arm to grab the rope. She used the heavy curtain to protect her from the smoke, and she was very brave,” her sister said.
Salmi has a knack for adventure, her sister said.
“One thing that my sister did about 10 years ago, my sister and her husband sailed across the Atlantic in a 45-foot boat. Took them three weeks. I knew she was strong,” Wolf said.
In Thailand, Salmi recounted watching the blaze creep closer to the room where she and Rebecca huddled.
“I am overwhelmed to see the destruction. From my room, I could see the fire when it started and the flame from the second-floor balcony. We watched the whole fire from my room,” Salmi said.
“I think I did the right thing. . . . We put wet towels under the door, but the smoke was so heavy. I was talking by the hand phone the whole time with my friend. I did everything I could, and when the rescue came, finally, I just collapsed.”
Salmi, who is staying with an American family she met after the rescue, is angry over the lack of any safety measures in the hotel.
“The sprinkler system did not work,” she said. “The smoke alarm did not work. Nobody, nobody told us anything. No yelling about fire, nothing.”