Sisters' plan to celebrate Winter Solstice with loved ones dashed by bus crash

CHIANG MAI - Sisters Ong Chai Hong and Ong Chui Hoe had planned a family dinner at their home in Batu Pahat, Johor, to celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival, after their Chiang Mai holiday.

Instead, their sons Goh Chia Hwa and Teo Choon Hwee found themselves in the Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital mortuary to claim the bodies of their beloved mothers.

"My parents travel together at least once every year, and this year they chose Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

"On Dec 18, my mother called to inform me of their plans for dinner, which was supposed to be today (Winter Solstice Festival). That was the last I spoke to her," said Goh when met at the hospital yesterday.

Their mothers were among 13 Malaysian tourists killed with many others injured when their bus hit a power pole and ran off a mountainous road in Chiang Mai's Doi Saket district at 11.30am on Sunday.

Police said the bus was running on national highway No 118 through Ban Pang Fan village between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in the north when the driver lost control at the 43rd kilometre.

It was said to have hit a car before skidding off the road, ramming the pole and slamming into a big rock and trees.

The bus had reportedly collided with a car and fled before it got into the fatal accident.

Goh and Teo were among the next of kin who arrived from Malaysia on Monday night to identify the victims' belongings, and in the case of those who perished, their bodies.

Chai Hong, 58, and Chui Hoe, 53, were accompanied on the trip by their respective husbands, Goh Bak Chai, 64, and Teo Tien Chor.

Both men survived the crash and are recovering from their injuries, but they are yet to be told of the fate of their wives.

"I still don't know how to tell my father (Bak Chai), and yet I suspect he may already know that my mother is dead because according to him, he was conscious when the accident happened.

"It is best to let the Thai police investigate the matter. I am thankful that all the authorities involved, from both Thailand and Malaysia, are very helpful to us," said Chia Hwa.

For 23-year-old Lum Kerxin, she hasn't got the heart to tell her sister Jia Miem, 22, about the death of their father Lum See Seng, 63.

Their mother Ng Too Hiyok, 63, who also survived the accident, was warded at a separate hospital.

Kerxin was heard telling her younger sister over a video call that their parents were all right.

"Papa and mama are okay. You have to be good, okay? And be strong," she was heard telling her sister in Mandarin while sobbing.

Kerxin said she did not know how to break the news to her sister as the latter was badly injured.

"I first saw a picture of the bus crash on Facebook and in one photo, I saw a head out of the window which looked like my father.

"I chose not to believe it and hoped for the best but he has died," she said outside the mortuary yesterday.

Her boyfriend Wong Seet Hua, 27, identified See Seng's body.

In BATU PAHAT, Chia Hwa's brother Chia Hoo said what was supposed to be a happy homecoming for their parents on Monday had now turned into a funeral for their mother.

Chia Hoo, 30, the youngest of four brothers, said he had dropped his parents at Chiu Travel Agency in Jalan Rahmat here on Dec 17.

"My mother was the organiser. She managed to get 15 people, including my aunt and her husband, to go on the four-day tour to Thailand.

"I hadn't been worried about my parents, especially my mother who travelled overseas frequently and had visited Chiang Mai at least twice," he said when met at the family home in Kampung Parit Haji Sidek here.

The mechanic said his mother called him on the day the group arrived at their hotel in Chiang Mai.

"That was the last time I heard my mother's voice. Later, the travel agency called the house to say my mother had died in the accident," he added.

The remains of the dead Malaysians were to have arrived early this morning at the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) base in Subang.

An RMAF C130 Hercules aircraft was also deployed to Thailand to fly home the injured victims.

It left the Subang airbase at about 6.45pm yesterday with a team from the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry, Health Ministry and the Armed Forces.

Both aircraft are scheduled to land at about 4am.

Additional reporting by Mohd Farhaan Shah and Nadirah H.Rodzi.