An American university student died during a visit to Myanmar on Tuesday afternoon after suffering an accidental fall from an ancient pagoda in Bagan.
Kassandra “Kassie” Braun, 20, had climbed the 20-foot Wuttanathaw Pagoda at around 4:30pm that day to take a photo of the sunset, according to Department of Archaeology director Aung Kyaw Kyaw. Her head was badly injured by the fall, and she passed away in an ambulance on the way to Mandalay General Hospital.
Climbing Bagan’s more than 2,000 temples has long been considered a must-do by tourists and tour operators. However, Myanmar government officials, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, have spoken out against the activity, claiming it spoils and disgraces the ancient religious sites.
In February 2016, Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture banned the climbing of all pagodas in the Bagan Archaeological Zone after a local company hosted a dance party on one of the ancient structures. Photos of the event drew wide public criticism.
A day after the ban was announced, the ministry clarified that climbing would still be permitted on five major pagodas. Wuttanathaw was not one of them.
Although the ban was meant to come into effect in March 2016, enforcement has been lax, and climbing has remained common among tourists.
Kassie was a student at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and was in Myanmar as a participant in Semester at Sea – a program that offers university courses on a ship that ferries students around the world for three and half months. Kassie was one of over 500 participants this semester, and Myanmar was their fifth stop out of 10.
“We are deeply saddened to share the news of the loss of a member of our shipboard community,” said a statement from Layne Hanson, Semester at Sea’s vice president for public affairs.
The statement also said Kassie was traveling independently at the time of the accident.
Kassie is survived by her parents, Chalene and Dave Braun, and two siblings.
A separate statement from the family said: “The family is absolutely devastated by the tragic death of their daughter and sister, Kassandra ‘Kassie’ Braun. They are still waiting for further details about what happened but would like everyone to know that Kassie was having the time of her life on Semester at Sea and was living her dream. She was so full of life and love, gave so much to so many.”
The family is expected to travel to Myanmar to make plans for her repatriation.
On August 29, a few days before Kassie embarked on her Semester at Sea, she posted a message on Facebook telling friends from her hometown that she was collecting donations for the communities she planned to visit during her travels, including school supplies, games, and first aid equipment.
Before she arrived in Myanmar, Kassie volunteered for charities in Ghana, South Africa, and India and said she was looking forward to helping with renovations on a school in Vietnam after her visit to Myanmar.
Her post ended: “I’m so, so excited to head out on this adventure.”