It was a quiet Friday evening on 19 December 1997 when Mother returned from a
concert at 10.30 p.m. As she was about to retire for the night, she received a
telephone call, and from her response, we knew
something was amiss.
Hanging up the telephone, she dashed for the
door, shouting, "There's a plane crash ! One of my colleagues may be on it ! I'm
going back to the office. Don't wait up for me !"
It was so ominous a message
! it turned out that the colleague was indeed on that ill-fated flight returning
from Jakarta to Singapore. She was initially due back in Singapore on Wednesday,
17 December, but a series of meetings with clients had delayed her return to
The airplane, SilkAir MI 185, had taken off from the Jakarta
airport at 3.30 p.m. However, shortly after take-off, the plane radioed the
Jakarta air-control tower that it would be heading back to land at the airport
due to some areas of concern regarding the plane. The air-control tower directed
the plane to the nearest airport at Palembang. Unfortunately, it never made it
to the airport. It crashed, taking all one hundred and four people on board to
their watery graves.
Salvage efforts were soon undertaken by the Singapore
Navy and the Indonesian authorities. They managed to dredge up a considerable
amount of the plane's wreckage and some body parts, but no complete body was
ever recovered. The two black boxes that were designed to record dialogues
between the pilot and the co-pilot, and the exchange between the pilots and the
air-control tower were recovered from the sea, but no message could be retrieved
Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flew families of the deceased to and
from Singapore to Palembang in the initial days of the rescue and salvage work
at the site of the crash. however, it was a heartrending scene portrayed time
and again on local television of family members weeping over the
inevitable outcome that they would never be
able to see their loved ones again.
A last rite, performed by the various
religious leaders of the various faiths, was organized by the Singapore
government at the Indoor Stadium. Thousands turned up to pay their respects to
the one hundred and four victims of the plane crash. it was a time of national
grieving for the tragic loss of so many lives. At the same time, all the friends
of my mother's colleague banded together to lend emotional support to the
latter's family. There was only so much anyone could do for the families and
loved ones of the dead. The last rite provided some consolation for those left
behind as the dead could now rest in peace.