Sriwijaya Air crash: Co-pilot among the brightest at flying school, pilot a 'warm and compassionate' person
JAKARTA: The co-pilot of the ill-fated Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed shortly after take off last weekend was among the brightest students in the flying school and assured his family that he would always put safety first, said his brother when interviewed by CNA.
Meanwhile, the pilot was described by his family members as a "warm and compassionate" person who loved his job.
Sixty-two people were on board the Indonesian commercial plane that crashed on Saturday (Jan 9), just four minutes after it took off from Jakarta bound for Pontianak, West Kalimantan. The captain of the flight was Afwan RZ. His co-pilot was Diego Mamahit.
Authorities have recovered debris believed to be from the plane as well as human remains. There are no signs of survivors.
Mr Chris Mamahit, the brother of the co-pilot said his sibling had flown thousands of hours on a Boeing 737 in his seven-year career with Sriwijaya Air.
He said his brother was among the brightest students at Sriwijaya’s NAM Flying School, which he joined in 2010. He managed to obtain his flying license sooner than most of his peers at the school.
“I called him ‘Cap’ to motivate him, because his dream was to one day become a captain and earn his fourth stripe,” said Mr Chris Mamahit, who described his brother as a polite and loving family man.
The 34-year-old co-pilot studied economics at a university in Jakarta. He enrolled at the flying school not long after he obtained his bachelor’s degree at the encouragement of his father Boy Mamahit, a former executive at the now defunct Bouraq Airlines.
“My father was in the aviation industry. He was not a pilot himself, but my father wanted one of his children to work in the aviation industry like he did,” Mr Chris Mamahit said.
Mr Diego Mamahit’s decision to become an aviator did not sit well with his older brother.
“We all know that being a pilot is a risky occupation. I worried about it a lot. Whenever a plane crashed, I discussed the matter with him. He told me not to worry. He said: ‘I will never fly if my plane is not airworthy. I will make sure my plane is alright'."
"I asked him: ‘do you promise?’. He said: ‘yes, don’t you worry’,” Mr Chris Mamahit recounted.
Mr Diego Mamahit, the last of three siblings, was very close with both his parents and called his mother almost daily just to say hello and inform her where he would be flying.
“When the news broke that a Sriwijaya plane had crashed, I immediately called my mother. She asked me which one. I said: ‘Pontianak’. And she said that Diego told her that he was flying to Padang (West Sumatra),” Mr Chris Mamahit recalled. “It put my mind at ease. It’s not Diego. It’s not my brother.”
Little did he know, that his brother was rostered to fly to West Sumatra only in the evening. Prior to that, he was rostered to work on the Jakarta to Pontianak sector and was the co-pilot on the doomed flight.
“A relative from the family’s Whatsapp group brought it up. My relative said: ‘Chris, a Sriwijaya plane had crashed’. I didn’t think too much about it. But then he forwarded me a manifest and my brother’s name was there. I immediately broke into tears. I hugged my wife. That was Diego’s name. I was crying and screaming,” he said.
He then rushed to his parents' home on Saturday night. They checked with the airline, which confirmed that his brother was the co-pilot.
"Even then, we weren’t 100 per cent convinced. Because there were many versions of the manifest circulating online. Some had my brother’s name. Some didn’t,” he said.
Even when the family was asked to provide their DNA samples the following day, they were not convinced that Mr Diego Mamahit was on the flight.
“We felt that it was a mere formality. We were convinced that he was alive. He was a fighter. He had promised me that he wouldn’t fly with a broken plane. He gave me his word,” Mr Chris Mamahit said.
But upon seeing footage of the debris later on Sunday, Mr Chris Mamahit said he began to embrace the possibility that his brother might have been killed.
“My parents are still convinced that he had somehow survived. But if you look at (the circumstances) logically and realistically the chances of him surviving are slim,” he said. “We still hope for the best but if the worst happens, we have to be ready. We have to accept it and stay strong.”
READ: Sriwijaya Air crash - Forest ranger and family boarded an earlier flight after acquiring COVID-19 test results
"PIOUS AND GENEROUS PERSON"
Family members of Mr Afwan, 54, told CNA the pilot had more than 30 years of flying experience, having started his career with the Indonesian air force.
“He was always fond of flying. Even at high school, he used to fly gliders,” said a nephew who did not want to be named.
Upon graduating from high school, Mr Afwan immediately signed up to join the military. As a pilot with the air force, he flew Hercules and Cessna planes.
After several years with the air force, he made a career change and became a commercial pilot.
The pilot has worked for Indonesian carriers including Garuda Indonesia, Adam Air and Lion Air before joining Sriwijaya Air about five years ago.
Mr Afwan's family remembers him as a kind and loving family man who was always ready to help out others in need.
A day before the plane accident, he had transferred money meant for an ill relative.
Mr Ferza Mahardika, another nephew, said: “He was a pious, generous person, a role model, caring, wise and kind."
“We wish the best for our uncle, the best given by Allah to our uncle, the crew and all the passengers of SJ182.”
A sister who also declined to be named said: "We siblings were always very close to each other. If I couldn’t finish my meal, he would take my leftovers because it is forbidden to not finish the food served to you.”
The pilot would always give his sisters a big hug after congregational prayer sessions.
“He would always hug me and then send a personal prayer for each one of us,” the sister added.
To spend more time with his wife and his three young children in Cibinong, West Java, he requested to fly domestic routes.
The night before the plane crash, he sent long prayers to his family members in their mobile chat group.
Before he left his house for work on Saturday, he apologised to his young children for any past mistakes.
Officials from Sriwijaya Air informed the family of the mishap on Saturday evening. Later that night, the regent of Bogor sent a condolence wreath, which the family initially rejected. The captain is a resident of Bogor regency.
But when on Sunday the authorities announced that the plane had crashed, they came to terms.
Sriwijaya Air has been providing assistance for the family, such as transport for them to go to Jakarta to give authorities their DNA samples, as well as accommodation in the capital.