Mass burial for victims on Jan 19 in Palembang

Crash of SilkAir Flight MI 185

Dredging to continue to locate crucial plane parts.

RELATIVES will mourn for their loved ones who died in the SilkAir jetliner crash at a mass burial here on Jan 19.

The 104 people, who died when the Boeing 737-300 crashed into the River Musi more than two weeks ago, will be buried in an area measuring 60m by 70m, near an existing cemetery in the South Sumatran capital of Palembang.

Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan and Indonesian Transport Minister Haryanto Dhanutirto announced this at a news conference here yesterday.

Mr Mah also said that dredging in the River Musi will continue for at least another week because there were still crucial parts of the plane which had not been recovered. It was announced earlier that work would end today.

Mr Mah did not elaborate, but it is believed that the investigation team is hoping to find more fragments from the rear end of the aircraft.

On the other hand, the search for human remains would not resume, he said.

“The forensic experts have told us that the chances of positively identifying any more body parts is very remote.

“Our emphasis now is to make sure that the remains are buried as soon as possible, in keeping with the wishes of the next-of-kin,” he said.

Mr Haryanto said that 104 coffins would be prepared and various religious faiths would be represented during the funeral ceremony at Taman Bunga.

Mr Mah said the Taman Bunga site, which is about two kilometres from the airport and one of two alternatives put forward by the Indonesian government, was selected by a Singapore team after consulting local authorities.

Asked why the ceremony was being held in Indonesia and not in Singapore, he said that the Republic was following international practice, which stipulated that when the human remains of a plane crash could not be identified, a mass burial is conducted in the country where the disaster occurred.

“In this case, the crash took place in Indonesia.

“The investigation and all the due process are under the jurisdiction of Indonesia. Under such circumstances, the mass burial will also take place here.”

He noted that some Singaporean relatives had expressed the wish to have a mass burial back home.

The next-of-kin of 14 other nationalities on board Flight MI 185 had made a similar request.

This was not possible, he said, given the difficulty in identifying body parts recovered from the crash site.

So far, only four people had been identified, one of whom was a Singaporean. There were 46 Singaporeans on board.

Mr Mah said: “In order to have a mass burial in Singapore, we need to have positively identified the remains of Singaporeans to be brought back.

“Since we have only identified one, it is obviously not practical to have a mass burial in Singapore.”

SIA chairman S. Dhanabalan, who was also at the press conference, said that SilkAir would fly the relatives to Palembang for the funeral ceremony.

He said Taman Bunga was chosen as the burial site, instead of the crash area some 125km away, because of time and accessibility.

The Musi site would take time to prepare, given that it was a swampy area.

“We are talking of months, three or four months. So it is not very practical.”

He said many relatives did not want the recovered body parts to be kept too long.

“So the most respectful thing to do is to have the burial as early as possible in a location that is easily accessible,” he said.

Mr Dhanabalan added that a “marker” would be erected near the crash site, “so that people who come here from time to time can go to the area and pay their respects”.

Asked when operations would end, Mr Mah said: “We will continue until such a time when the investigation team advises us that there is no longer any possibility of recovering important debris from the river.”

Mr Haryanto added that another review would be done on Tuesday before any further decisions were made.

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