Still waiting for hubby to come home

In her mind, her husband has gone overseas to work and has not returned home.

But the truth is that he had vanished together with the aircraft he was on 21 years ago in Aceh, Indonesia.

Some wreckage was reportedly found in 2010 but it was never officially confirmed if it was the same aircraft.

Shanghai-born Madam Li Yan Min, 53, harbours hope that one day, she will read in the newspapers about her husband being found.

It doesn't matter even if he has a wife and children in tow, she said.

She told The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin: "As long as he is leading a good life, that's what matters."

Her husband, Mr Lim Fung Wooi, then 37, was on board the SC-7 Skyvan owned by Pan Malaysian Air Transport when it slipped off radar screens 30 minutes after departing from Medan's Polonia Airport in Indonesia on Jan 30, 1993. It was en route to Banda Aceh. The details of how the aircraft disappeared without a trace are eerily similar to how Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing on March 8.

The Boeing 777, which was en route to Beijing, China, lost contact with air traffic controllers about 50 minutes after taking off from Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport .

Family members of passengers on board both aircraft experienced the same roller coaster of emotions. Their hopes were raised when suspected debris was found, only to be dashed when it turned out to be a false lead.

The search and rescue operations for the missing Skyvan by the authorities and family members were on and off for almost a year to no avail, before it was called off for good.

And the waiting game can be torturous.

Madam Li knows that painful feeling too well.

When she read about the missing jet, her heart went out to the family members of the 239 people on board MH370.

She says: "I pray for them - praying for a miracle that the plane can be found. They are someone's family members, friends, parents and siblings. I believe they are going through what I had been through."

The days following the news about her missing husband was a dark period she would not want to revisit.

She had then just given birth to her third child, a girl, a day before.

Madam Li says: "Then, my tears flowed and flowed, as though I was washing my face with tears.

"It was a feeling that is very hard to describe. You would not understand how it feels like unless it happens to you."

But life has to go on, she says.

"I have three kids. I cannot neglect them just because my husband is missing. They still need to be fed and to be looked after."

Her two other daughters were then aged three and four. Her parents had moved to the US and she relied on her in-laws for support.

She says: "When my husband was still around, I had everything. I stayed in a semi-detached house, I had a car, a maid and my daughters could play on the swing in the garden."

Madam Li was a housewife and depended on her marine surveyor husband financially.

She says: "Suddenly, I had to be independent, with three mouths to feed. Everything changed."

The landed property and car were sold and she moved into an HDB flat in Pasir Ris.

She also became a teacher, a job that she is still doing today.

Bringing up three children as a single parent has not been easy.

She says: "I am the father, I'm also the mother and the maid. But at least, I have my three kids. And luckily, they are all good.

"They gave me a lot of strength and encouragement to carry on.

"Now, they are all grown up and successful. I have a sense of accomplishment. I'm contented."

Her daughters are now aged 21, 25 and 26, and the eldest is married with a daughter of their own. They declined to be interviewed for this story.

Madam Li says: "I'm thankful I have a lot of relatives and friends who supported me all this time and allowed me to walk on till today."

Even though it has been 21 years, she still speaks fondly of her husband.

She says: "He was a PhD holder. He treated me very well and he was a gentleman. No one can ever replace him."

She still keeps their wedding picture and his certificates are still intact.

And she yearns for a miracle.

"I'm still waiting for my husband," says Madam Li. "I hope one day I will read in the newspapers that the missing people have been found. I'm still waiting for this day.

"I feel that my husband is still around. My sixth sense told me so, as I've never dreamt about him.

"To me, he has gone to work overseas and is yet to return."

Bringing back sad memories

When he saw the news about the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370, he posted it on his Facebook page.

He did it in memory of his step grandfather, Mr Mansor Osman, then 29, who went missing in Aceh, Indonesia, together with the aircraft he was on 21 years ago. His grandfather, a freelance commercial diver, was part of the diving team headed to Aceh to tackle an oil spill.

But that was the last time Mr Shamus Nirzan, 31, posted anything about the missing MAS flight.

He realised that bringing up the missing Boeing 777 brought back bad memories from the missing Skyvan in 1993.

He says that he is still young, and can take the emotional roller coaster, but not his 68-year-old grandmother, Madam Sholiyah Mohd Shariff.

He told The New Paper on Sunday: "It has been so long, I don't think about it anymore.

"(But) I don't want to talk about it any more because it will affect my grandmother. She's 68. I don't want her to recall (it). It will be very hard on her."

Although he was just 10 years old when his step grandfather went missing, he still remembers the close bond he shared with him.

He says: "I was his favourite grandson. He would carry me on his shoulders. My grandmother used to send him off to work at the main road, so he would carry me on his shoulders all the way there. He did that when he went shopping too."

Mr Shamus became a commercial diver in 2009, following in the footsteps of Mr Mansor, who would take him, his elder brother and Madam Sholiyah on some of his diving trips here and in Malaysia.

He says: "My grandfather used to bring back his gear. When no one was around, I would go into the room and put on his gear. Maybe that was how I fell in love with diving."

But ask him about the day he found out that his step grandfather was on the ill-fated flight, and he says does not remember much."The situation was tense and sad. My grandmother kept crying. My brother and I didn't talk much and we sat quietly in a corner," he says.

Although two decades have passed, he still misses Mr Mansor very much.

He says: "I wish he could dive together with me."

Plane disappeared two decades ago

On Jan 30, 1993, a chartered aircraft vanished shortly after take-off, en route to Banda Aceh.

Sixteen people were on board - 10 Singaporeans, an Indian national who was a Singapore permanent resident, and five crew members.

The passengers were divers going to salvage a supertanker, the Maersk Navigator, which had collided with another vessel off North Sumatra at the entrance of the Malacca Strait.

The SC-7 Skyvan, owned by Pan Malaysian Air Transport, disappeared from radar screens at 12.20pm - about 30 minutes after taking off from Polonia Airport in Medan at about 11.48am in bad weather.

It was due to arrive at Banda Aceh's Blang Bintang airport at 1.10pm.

The flight was to have taken 1 hour and 35mins and the aircraft had enough fuel for five hours of flight.

The 10 Singaporean passengers were: Mr Mansor Osman, Mr Khairuddin Sahamat, Mr Zuraini Shahadan, Mr Sharudin Jaafar, Mr Lee Moon Thong, Mr Abu Nasir Mohd Noor, Mr Lim Fung Wooi, Mr Palanisamy Thiagarajan, Mr Samsul Bahri Isa, and Mr Zamri Isa.

In 2010, media reports from Indonesia said wreckage found at Mount Leuser, the mountain range in North Sumatra, could be the missing Skyvan. Aceh police station sent a team to the site where the wreckage was spotted, but they had to turn back when some of them contracted malaria.

Following that, no teams have been sent since as they were unsure of the exact wreckage location, its spokesman said then.

Other flights that have vanished

Upali Air Flight N482U - Feb 13, 1983:

This Learjet 35A was the private plane of the airline's founder, Sri Lankan billionaire Upali Wijewardene, who was on the flight with two other passengers and three crew. The jet, which was en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, from Kuala Lumpur, was last heard from 15 minutes after take-off, before it disappeared somewhere in the Strait of Malacca. Only a survival pack, which is believed to have come from the jet, was found a few days later.

Varig Boeing 707-323C - Jan 30, 1979:

This Rio-bound cargo plane, which was operated by Brazilian airline Varig, vanished 30 minutes after taking off from Narita International Airport in Tokyo. The plane and its crew of six were never found. The plane was also carrying 153 paintings by noted Japanese-Brazilian artist Manabu Mabe. The paintings, worth more than US$1.2 million (S$1.5 million), were also never found.

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 - March 16, 1962:

The Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation was chartered by the US military to fly 93 US soldiers and three South Vietnamese from Guam to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. It never made it. Its disappearance triggered a massive air and sea search in the western Pacific Ocean covering more than 520,000 sq km. Neither the wreckage nor the passengers and 11 crew were found.

Garuda Indonesia Airlines Flight PK-GDY - Feb 3, 1961:

The flight was heading from Juanda Airport in Surabaya to Sultan Aji Muhamad Sulaiman Airport in Kalimantan, Indonesia. It disappeared off Madura Island, which is off the north-eastern coast of Java. There were five crew and 21 passengers on board. The wreckage was never found.

chaihyn@sph.com.sg


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