SUBANG - In a sad homecoming, the remains of the 13 Malaysians who died in a bus crash in Chiang Mai were received by family members in the wee hours at the Royal Malaysia Air Force (RMAF) base here yesterday.
The coffins bearing the remains of the victims arrived in a Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft which left Chiang Mai Military Airport at 10.55pm on Tuesday and arrived at the base here at 3.30am.
An RMAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules touched down minutes later with the next of kin of the deceased and 61-year-old female survivor Lee Siew Kim.
On the tarmac, 60 airmen pallbearers stood in formation in their blue uniform and songkok to carry the caskets out of the military transport aircraft in a dignified ceremony.
With nine pallbearers in a group, they marched into the plane's cargo hold to carry out the caskets. The last one was carried out at about 4.20am.
It was a heartwrenching moment as family members stood in line, holding on to each other for comfort, crying and chanting prayers.
Each casket was placed in a hearse which later made a four-hour journey to Batu Pahat, Johor, where all the victims were from.
Clad in dark blue tops and white trousers, 22 volunteers from the Taiwan Tzu Chi Foundation Malaysia, who had arrived a few hours earlier at the base, were seen holding hands and embracing the family members throughout the ceremony.
"We are here to provide support and counselling to the victims," said spokesman Chen Sak Chong.
Among those at the RMAF base were Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong and MCA vice-president Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun.
Mah, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said the female survivor Lee was found to be in stable condition by medical personnel.
He said a Gerakan branch chairman and a family of four who were on a holiday also died in the crash.
"We all feel the pain. This is really an unfortunate accident.
"We are working with the Thai authorities to render assistance to the injured," he said, extending his condolences to the families of the victims.
Chew, who is Women, Family and Community Development deputy minister, said the ministry would provide assistance to the victims, including counselling.
"I talked to the family members and it seems they have accepted what happened. They were okay and quite calm," she said.
Lee has been sent to the Batu Pahat Hospital.