This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
There’s a beach in Phuket that’s become something of a “selfie destination.” Running as it does alongside the Thai island’s international airport, Mai Khao beach offers the perfect vantage point for tourists to get that iconic holiday snap: beach in the foreground, Andaman Sea in the background, giant commercial airliner descending overhead. Schapelle Corby recently got the pic. Thousands of others have flocked to the Mai Khao waterfront to do the same. And authorities are concerned that it’s all just getting a bit much.
Citing “safety concerns,” Phuket authorities are enforcing a nine-kilometre-long exclusion zone along Mai Khao beach, South China Morning Post reports: with the maximum penalty for setting foot on the strip being death.
Vijit Kaewsaiteam, vice-president of Phuket International Airport, explained that the ban is less about protecting the self-seeking tourists, however, as it is minimising the risk of pilots being distracted as they come in to land. Anyone deemed to be endangering an aircraft could face anywhere between five years and life in prison, while the most serious offenders may face capital punishment under the Air Navigation Act, according to the ABC.
"People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos," deputy Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam told the Bangkok Post. “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”
Wichit said that these plane selfie safety rules would be rolled out in line with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Of further concern to authorities are people who insist on flying drones and those who shine lights into the sky at night, which has previously distracted pilots descending into Phuket International.
"The airport wants to boost tourism revenue, but at the same time it must make sure there will not be any problem with aviation regulations,” said Wichit. “Tourism and safety must co-exist."
Some are skeptical as to how effective the exclusion zone will be at deterring tourists and keeping them out of the flight path. Sukris Koyakradej, a member of Phuket Tourist Association’s executive committee, questioned the airport’s authority to enforce the restrictions, telling South China Morning Post: “I took photos there two years ago, when it was not made popular by social media yet. I don’t think the airport can block the entrance to the beach because it is not part of the runway.”
Tharika Nokkaew, an official who works in overseeing the management of the beach, confirmed that no restrictions had been put in place as of yet. “There are always a lot of tourists there all the time,” she said.
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