A 50-year flashback: Flight 185

A 50-year flashback: Flight 185
PHOTO: The New Paper, The Straits Times

One was a noted model and writer, Miss Bonny Hicks.

There were also three young siblings, aged 14, 11 and seven, who were travelling unaccompanied to meet their mother in Singapore.

Three more were secondary school teachers, rushing home to attend a colleague's funeral.

They were among the 104 people on board SilkAir Flight 185. Forty-six of them were Singaporeans.

All their lives were tragically ended when the Boeing 737-300 plunged into the Musi river in Indonesia on the night of Dec 19, 1997.

The flight took off from Jakarta at 3.37pm local time, bound for Singapore.

Half an hour into the flight, the plane went into a steep dive. At some point, the plane's black boxes stopped recording cockpit conversations and flight data.

Soon after, the plane crashed into the river. Most of the plane shattered into tiny pieces and lay at the bottom of murky waters more than 20m deep.

For two weeks, the nation mourned with those who had lost relatives or friends on board.

About 10,000 people turned up to sign condolence books. More than 9,000 attended the condolence service at the Indoor Stadium.

At the time, investigators were mystified as to why the then 10-month-old plane, with an experienced pilot at the helm and good weather conditions, could have crashed.

An investigation spanning three years and conducted by the Indonesian Transportation Safety Committee and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from the United States was inconclusive.

A separate police probe into the psychological make-up and financial background of the two men at the controls also could not offer any answers.

Some suggested Flight 185's pilot, Captain Tsu Way Ming, 41, may have wanted to kill himself over financial woes.

What followed was a series of lawsuits and private investigations into the crash, spanning years.

A separate NTSB investigation concluded that Boeing 737s - the plane model of Flight 185 - had rudder problems.

In 2004, a jury in a Los Angeles Superior Court decided that defects in the rudder control system caused the crash, placing the blame on the manufacturer, Parker Hannifin Corp.

Closure may never be found, as most of the bodies recovered from the crash site could not be identified.

As Miss Tan Tam Mei, the daughter of one of the passengers, wrote in The New Paper last year: "I understand that my father will never return.

"The truth is that time cannot fully heal such wounds. The grief subsides, but the pain and loss linger... I remember my father for the great man he was, and try not to think of the great man he could still be today."


This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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