Feature

PC 121, The Doomed Flight: A Flash Back 20 Years On

It is the worst aviation disaster in Fiji so far. Seventeen people, including two crew members, lost their lives when the then Air Fiji Flight 121 (PC121) crashed 20 years ago today.
24 Jul 2019 13:25
PC 121, The Doomed Flight: A Flash Back 20 Years On
An Air Fiji Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante aircraft, similar to the one that crashed on the morning of July 24, 1999.

He was reportedly not supposed to go on that flight from Nausori to Nadi on that fateful morning.

But it is said that because of his connection with people, he somehow managed to board the Air Fiji Flight 121 on the Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante aircraft that departed Nausori International Airport at 5.25am on July 24, 1999.

Kuar Battan Singh was a Senator and he was going to Nadi to catch a connecting flight to Melbourne, Australia, for a medical check-up.

His son, Surendra Battan Singh, the managing director of Battan Singh Limited in Nausori, recalls the time he spent with his father the night before the plane crash.

“It was Friday night (July 23) and I recall dad sitting on the terrace at home with his friend having a kava session,” he said.

“I had come back from Australia and I remember him saying that ‘my son is back and he will control the family business now’.

“I remember him having dinner after the kava session and I left to attend a function. I couldn’t see him the next morning as mum had left to drop him at the Nausori Airport.”

Mr Singh said it was about 8.30am on July 24 when he got a phone call from his father’s friend who had kava with him the previous night.

“He told me that he heard the flight from Nausori had not reached Nadi yet so I drove with mum to the Nausori Police Station to find out, but we couldn’t find out anything.

“It was between 9:30am and 10am when we got confirmation that the plane had crashed in the mountains in Naitasiri.

Screenshot 2019-07-24 at 1.21.48 PM copy

“My dad was going to Melbourne for a medical check-up. In fact, he wasn’t supposed to go on that flight but through his contacts, he somehow got on that flight.

“The day before the plane crash, I took him to meet my wife to tell him that this will be the girl I will marry and we were almost involved in a bad accident when coming back home.”

Mr Singh said the recovery of the remains of the passengers had started and these were transported to Nausori Airport from the crash site at Delailasakau in Naitasiri.

“But my dad’s body was yet to be recovered and I thought that he probably may have survived and was hanging on a tree or something,” he said.

“His body was found at the crash site on Monday afternoon (July 26). We identified his body from his arm, from the ring that he was wearing.

“I didn’t have the heart to go to the crash site when the search was underway for the bodies and I still don’t have the heart to go up there.

“From what I remember, my dad was a very good man and not a single day goes by when I don’t think of him. When I look in the mirror, I can see him because I resemble him,” said Mr Singh.

Going down memory lane, the doomed flight was operated by the then Air Fiji.

The flight had 15 passengers, including an infant, and two crew members, namely the captain, Kitione Galuinadi, and co-pilot Filipe Racule.

According to Wikipedia, the aircraft was carrying nine Fijians, five Australians, a New Zealander, a Chinese national and a Japanese national.

It slammed into the mountains near Delailasakau shortly after dawn and radio contact was lost with the aircraft.

Police reportedly received a call at about 8.40am to say that villagers had heard a loud crash in the hills north of Nasevou Village and a search team was dispatched by the authorities.

A helicopter with medical personnel and other people spotted the wreckage of Flight 121 shortly after, but there were no signs of life at the crash site.

The search party could only reach the crash site after a few hours walk and they had to bring back the severely-mutilated bodies by foot through the mountainous terrain.

The then Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji conducted investigations into the crash with assistance from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

According to Wikipedia, interviews conducted by the CAAF found that witnesses stated that before the aircraft crashed, part of its tail and wings fell down into the forest, indicating a possible structural failure.

The tail fin and horizontal stabilisers were found 300 metres to the left of the line of flight, which was consistent with a pre-impact structural failure, meaning that the aircraft may have broken up in the air before crashing to the ground.

Furthermore, Wikipedia states that specific investigations later found that the pilot of Flight 121 may have been intoxicated.

“The brother of the pilot stated that four hours before the crash the captain of the flight had been drinking alcohol,” it said.

“The investigation also revealed that the captain had insufficient rest prior to the flight and that he had consumed an above-therapeutic level of antihistamine prior to the flight.

“Air Fiji’s Standard Operating Procedure was also found to be inadequate.

“The structural failure that occurred in flight was a result from the crew’s error in descending below the minimum descent altitude of 5400 feet.

“The right wing struck a ridge at an elevation of 1300 feet, the aircraft then broke up and impacted the slope of a ridge 1.3 kilometres further on.”

According to Wikipedia, the tail section and right wing were found 150 metres from the main wreckage.

Mr Singh said since no one survived the plane crash, it would not be right for him to blame the aircraft’s crew for what happened or even comment on the possible structural failure.

“But I just hope and pray that such an incident does not happen again in the country,” he said.

Edited by Epineri Vula

Feedback: avinesh.gopal@fijisun.com.fj

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