Berkeley woman dies in mysterious death in Thailand

May 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Berkeley man is calling for an investigation into his wife's mysterious death. Soraya Vorster Pandola died in Chiang Mai, Thailand -- where she worked for a Berkeley travel company. She was fit and healthy, which is what makes her sudden death hard to understand.

The victim used to call Berkeley home and in the fall left for Thailand. That's where she died and no one knows how.

"I'm trying to come to grips with the fact that we may never know," said Tony Pandola.

Tony is in mourning after his wife, Soraya, died January 11th -- just two days before she was supposed to leave Thailand and join her husband in Brazil. The 33-year-old was a guide for Backroads, a Berkeley-based outdoor travel tour company. Soraya had just finished leading a six-day bike tour through Thailand when she suddenly fell ill.

"Details started coming out that she was in a coma, that her kidneys had failed, that her heart was enflamed, that her lungs had failed, she was on a ventilator," said Tony.

Soraya died three hours after her husband got to her hospital room. Now, nearly four months later, her death is still a mystery. But Soraya is one of seven people to suddenly die in Chiang Mai in a three month period. Many were staying at the Downtown Inn, but Soraya was staying across town in a small guest house.

"Soraya's case was quite unique because it was the same symptoms as the others, but in a different hotel," said Tony.

Some victims' families believe their loved ones died from exposure to a chemical used to fight bed bugs. Thai authorities insist all seven deaths are a coincidence. Tony doesn't believe any of it.

"We all want explanations, including Sara's family, my family and of all the other victims, but I imagine we might have to come to terms with the fact that we're not going to ever know for sure what this was," said Tony.

The Sara that Tony mentioned is a victim from New Zealand. In the meantime, Tony has gotten the CDC and the World Health Organization to look into his wife's death. They are acting as consultants.


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