A Day That I Will Never Forget- Finale: The Reunion

The story of the Search and Rescue of the two Vanuavatu sisters by RFNS Kula was quite popular on Facebook and on the Fiji Sun newspaper, both on the print and the online version.
21 May 2020 17:03
A Day That I Will Never Forget- Finale: The Reunion
RFMF Commander Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto with Liliana Gade at the Captain Stanley Brown Naval Base in Walu Bay, Suva, on May 19, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar

The story of the Search and Rescue of the two Vanuavatu sisters by RFNS Kula was quite popular on Facebook and on the Fiji Sun newspaper, both on the print and the online version.

I would read the comments posted, scanning for a hint of where the two sisters were. Then a breakthrough!

A reader in Australia had read the story and given she is from the beautiful island of Vanuavatu, made some connections.

I sent her a Facebook friend request after someone (in Australia too) alerted me to the fact that one of her Facebook friends might be able to help me find the two sisters.

We exchanged posts a few times and she gave two names and that she was still trying to find out where they are residing now. Then one day she sent me a screen shot of the Facebook page for one of them. This information I passed on to a relative of mine (a former journalist) to do some investigative journalism and see if they can be located. She had been closely following the story on Facebook also and she was delighted and excited to be my “Private Investigator”.

Well her Dad (now retired) was an investigator with the Police and a good one at that also, so I guess that the line of work that his daughter has now eagerly volunteered to do (as we tried and find these two sister) “runs in the blood”, as she puts it to me.

Some information started to shape our search. Some names, and it was either Lute or Nute and Lily or Lili and a place called Lovelove in Labasa. According to my private investigator, Lute or Nute had travelled from Vanua Levu to Suva and we were not sure where in Suva she was residing.

Communicating after 25 years

On 18 May at 1807hrs, I received a Viber message from the journalist who published the story in the Fiji Sun, and the message contained the missing parts that my private investigator was working on. It had their names, Lute and Liliana (the younger of the two) and the address of their place of residence, and it had Lute’s mobile number. I asked the journalist if I can work on hosting them for morning tea the next day and we agreed.

Now I realised that I had to call Lute on her mobile and that thought was for a moment, scary, as I was not too sure as to how she was going to react. This is 25 years on from when we rescued them and when we last met and said goodbye as they were driven away in an ambulance.

I finally mustered enough courage at 1820hrs and dialled Lute’s mobile number and it rang. I had the phone to my ear and walking around inside our little porch and then someone answered, I said “Bula” and asked if I could speak to Lute. The female voice on the other end asked if I could hold and I could hear her calling someone saying “someone wants to speak to you”.

Then it was “Hello” and my reply was “Can I please speak to Lute please” (in the iTaukei language) and back came the reply “io, o koya qo” (yes, this is Lute). I said: “Bula vinaka Lute, qo ga o Vili Naupoto”, and her reply was a long “Isa” and then silence. And after about 10 seconds “Isa, sa dede” (it’s been a long time). I said yes it has been a long time indeed. That phone call made my day! I asked about her sister and she said that she was there also and then I asked if I could host them to a cup of tea at the Naval Base the next morning to which Lute agreed and that they be picked up around 10am.

Next morning, I drove around to Nadera and picked Ravuravu Turaga (now retired) our Chief Engineer, that I mentioned in the story and we proceeded to pick the two sisters from their residence. We drove around for a while looking for Lot 56 and then a group of boys standing near the road pointed to the next driveway from where we were parked. They were on the lookout for my car (black KIA Sorento) as I had explained to Lute the evening before.

Ravu and I sat in the car and sanitised our hands from a bottle that I carry around in my car and waited.

Then we saw a lady walking down the driveway and then another followed. So, we got out of the car and waited for them, I noticed that they were walking down crying and I knew straightaway that these were the two sisters. We shook hands without a word as both ladies just hugged us with tears and we all stood there and allowed our emotions to carry through. Then we introduced ourselves and I finally could put a face to Lute and Liliana. They are now well grown ladies, a big difference from the two teenagers we rescued 25 years ago. They are both married with children. Meeting them that morning was just like meeting them face to face for the first time on the Kula 25 years ago. They are such humble human beings and God bless their soul for that.

Heading to the Naval Base

As I drove them down to the Naval Base, I kept telling myself “drive carefully… don’t put their lives in jeopardy again!”

The two “girls” were under my care, with Chief Engineer Ravu, one more time, only this time in my car, on land… definitely better than in that little wooden punt out in rough seas 25 years ago.

We arrived at the Naval Base and I drove right to the wharf face and told them “this is where you boarded the ambulance and drove out 25 years ago.”

Just silence and tears in the car. I then took them to where tea was prepared and waiting for us downstairs was Commander Vosawale, the Officer who flew on the civilian aircraft that day and found them, which made the calculation for the search area easy and more precise.

As we walked upstairs, I could hear the laughter and talking from some of the rescue crew who made it to that hastily put together morning tea. And just like that day 25 years ago when we first saw them, it was just silence when the two ladies entered the room and yes, tears to our eyes. The RFMF Padre led us in a short devotion and they then shook hands with the rescue crew assembled. Petty Officer Vodo (one of the swimmers) made a video call from the US and talked with the two ladies and the crew!

The two ladies, thinking about that day, mentioned jokingly that if it was not for us, that big shark that was following them throughout their rough journey would have had a nice meal.

First time for me to know that there was a shark following them. I also learned for the first time that Lute had a baby who was six months old on the island as they drifted.

Now I can make sense of why she was the weaker of the two – she was a young mother then.

They now have the opportunity to tell their side of the story and they were willing to tell their story to that journalist and I guess that we will just have to wait for it.

In the last part of the story, I mentioned that as I watched the ambulance drive out with the two girls waving goodbye from inside, I knew that like time and tide, one of the best moments of my naval career had just passed never to return. Well, it did return – through meeting Lute and Liliana.

Vinaka vakalevu to all followers of the story. I thank you for reading the story and allowing yourselves to be part of the Kula crew and Lute and Liliana’s lives.

May the good Lord richly bless you all.

Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory for your love and faithfulness: Psalm 115:1

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj

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