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Sriwijaya Air crash: Forest ranger and family boarded an earlier flight after acquiring COVID-19 test results

Sriwijaya Air crash: Forest ranger and family boarded an earlier flight after acquiring COVID-19 test results

Indonesian rescue members carry what is believed to be the remains of the Sriwijaya Air plane flight SJ182 at Jakarta International Container Terminal port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan 10, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

JAKARTA: It was supposed to be a new beginning for Mr Rizki Wahyudi, a forest ranger at the Mount Palung National Park in the remote part of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, a seven-hour drive from the provincial capital, Pontianak.

Mr Wahyudi landed a job at the national park last year, but at that time his wife, Indah Halimah Putri was pregnant with their first child, Arkana Nadhif Wahyudi.

When his son was old enough to join him, Mr Wahyudi flew to South Sumatra where his wife and their eight-month-old son lived. The three then proceeded to Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka where his widowed mother lived and asked her to join them in West Kalimantan.

The mother, Rosi Wahyuni agreed on the condition that her orphaned niece, Nabila Anjani also moved in with them. Mdm Wahyuni had been caring for the 12-year-old ever since she lost both parents to an accident.

But the group of five never made it to West Kalimantan. The plane they were on, Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182, crashed four minutes after taking off from Jakarta on Saturday afternoon (Jan 9). It was three weeks before Mr Wahyudi’s 27th birthday.    

The family left Pangkal Pinang on Friday, Mr Wahyudi’s cousin, Muhammad Haekal told CNA. There is no direct flight from Pangkal Pinang to Pontianak. Although it is possible to take a connecting flight and arrive on the same day, the family decided to spend the night in Jakarta.

“Rizki told us that he wanted the family to take PCR tests in Jakarta. In Pangkal Pinang, such tests can cost twice as much as Jakarta,” Mr Haekal said.

READ: Singapore leaders send condolences following Sriwijaya Air crash

Mr Haekal, who lives in Jakarta, said he had a video call with the family on Friday. He remembered asking them why they were spending the night at a hotel instead of staying at his home.

“He said he didn’t want to bother. I asked him when he was planning to fly to Pontianak and if there was any chance of us meeting. He told me that they might fly to Pontianak on Sunday,” he recounted.

“(Rizki) said he called because he wanted to say goodbye as they will be going away to a faraway place for a very long time. They did this to all of our extended family members. Little did I know that it would be the last time I saw them. It was their final goodbye.”

Mr Haekal said unbeknown to him, Mr Wahyudi and the family decided to fly a day earlier, as soon as they acquired the results of their swab tests.

“Maybe they didn’t want to spend more money on accommodation. Maybe they didn’t want the test results to expire by the time they got to their destination. I don’t know. And we might never know,” he said.

Ms Putri’s father told local media from South Sumatra that his daughter texted him shortly before they boarded the flight.

“Dad, this morning our PCR swab (test) results came out. We are all negative, so we decided to fly to Pontianak straightaway. We are now at the (airport) lounge waiting for our flight. It is delayed because the rain is pouring very hard,” she reportedly wrote.

READ: Sriwijaya Air crash places Indonesia's aviation safety under fresh spotlight

The plane was supposed to take off at 1.25pm but it was delayed for more than an hour due to bad weather.

Flight SJ182 crashed just north of Jakarta between two small islands named Laki and Lancang. Sixty-two people, including seven children and three infants were on board. 

Rescuers have been retrieving mangled plane instruments and parts of its landing gear and tail. Divers have also found human remains and none appeared to be intact.

The police’s Disaster Victim Identification Unit said they have so far received more than a dozen body bags containing human remains. These remains will be cross-referenced with DNA samples that officials have collected from the victims’ next of kin.

Indonesian Navy divers retrieve wreckage from the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 aircraft AFP/ADEK BERRY

Mr Haekal said since Mr Wahyudi is an only child, the closest living relatives are his two uncles who flew to Jakarta from Pangkal Pinang on Sunday to provide their DNA.

“They too are very shaken by the incident. We all are. They were so shocked they couldn’t communicate with other relatives,” he said.

“We just hope for the best. We hope there will be a miracle. But given the circumstances, we hope that they will at least retrieve their bodies so we can give them a proper burial.” 

On Monday, it was reported that Indonesian navy divers scouring the seabed were closing in on the plane’s data recorders.

The National Transportation Safety Committee said the jet may have been intact before it hit the water, given the debris appeared to have scattered in a relatively tight area underwater.

Source: CNA/aw

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