S’poreans to mourn crash victims on Tuesday

Community leaders plan service at indoor stadium.

SINGAPOREANS will be able to mourn as a nation for the 104 people who died in the SilkAir plane crash at a public condolence service to be held next Tuesday.

The ceremony, which will start at 6 pm at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, is being organised by a committee led by former President Wee Kim Wee and made up of community leaders, the Inter-Religious Organisation, SilkAir, Singapore Airlines and the media.

A SilkAir statement yesterday said the service would allow Singaporeans to express their support and sympathy and remember those who perished on flight MI 185. More details on it will be released later.

The move to hold the service was first announced on Christmas Day by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong after he toured the crisis management centre in Changi Airport.

“I think we all feel for the people concerned and through our own little way, just pray for them and offer them comfort and strength,” he said. “The rest, we leave it to the experts and the people on the ground.”

Yesterday marked exactly one week since the 10-month-old Boeing 737-300 crashed into the banks of the Musi River near Palembang, less than an hour after taking off from Jakarta for Singapore.

Recovery operations are still continuing and Vice-Admiral Rosihan Arsyad, commander of the Indonesian naval western fleet overseeing his navy’s rescue operations, told The Straits Times yesterday that naval divers had found parts of the black box’s casing.

This, he said, gave hope that the flight recorder, which would give vital clues on the cause of the crash, might not have been swept away. “The black box is still out there and we won’t stop our operations until we find it,” he said.

The recovery mission had also discovered a crater measuring 60 m by 25 m by 4 m at the bottom of the river, believed to have been caused by the impact of the crash.

Today, rescuers will dredge the big hole with a giant clamshell excavator, weighing more than 40 tonnes and with 35-m long cables.

“The bulk of the wreckage, including the plane’s undercarriage, is in and around the big hole in the river bed. Only an excavator can go all the way down and bring up that wreck.”

The search teams have recovered about 5-10 per cent of the plane’s body frame, including parts of its tail end, middle and wing sections, engine, and landing gear. Some 88 pieces of flesh have been found but only one person has been identified from these body parts.

On the progress of the operations, Vice-Admiral Rosihan said: “Singapore has trust and confidence in us. They are pleased with our efforts and have said thank you.

“This is the first time we are involved in such an exercise but we have the expertise and equipment. If we cannot recover the plane’s wreckage, nobody else can.”

As rescuers, including over 300 Singaporean personnel, battled against poor visibility and strong currents in the Musi even on Christmas Day, Education and Second Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean was among those who visited the site. Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan was also there on Monday and is due to fly to the site again today.

On Christmas Day too, PM Goh spent an hour at the crisis management centre and attended a briefing on the latest news in the recovery operations. The briefing did not touch on the possible causes of the crash, he said.

“At this stage, we are still in the dark as to what the cause was. The theories we leave to the experts. They are still in the process of piecing things together. So we will not, at this stage, speculate at all.”

But he made clear that the recovery operations would continue until the plane’s black box was found.

The search, he said, was frustrating for those involved, but they would nonetheless continue to work very hard.

“So all of us are not happy with the progress, but we have to be realistic,” he said. “The Indonesians have tried their best. They have cooperated very well.”

On the impact of the crash on parent company SIA, he said: “It is an unfortunate accident, but you have to go by the track record of an airline when these things happen.

“It’s happened to the best of airlines, which is SIA. They’ve got to build from here and take this in their stride, make sure that it does not happen again.”

PM Goh on the recovery efforts

It is very frustrating for all of us, the rescuers and searchers, Indonesians, Singaporeans, working very hard yet unable to find the fuselage, the black box and the bodies. It’s very frustrating and exasperating, but they will go on working very hard and they will spend as much time as they can, putting in more resources, if necessary, to see what else they can recover.’
– Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

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