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SQ006 The Last Flight From Taipei

Posted in Cabin Crew Stories, Singapore Airlines1 comment

Elaine, my wife’s younger sister is a flight stewardess with Singapore Airlines. It was a waste of education on her part for I felt that a graduate should be able to get a better job than just serving passengers on board. But that was her dream. To fly around the world and getting paid for it. She was staying at my place most of the time after the death of my wife. Usually before a long flight, she would ask me to cook some nice food for her and she would always ask whether I need something from her visiting destination.

It was strange this time round that I didn’t ask for her destination. The following night, I had this strange dream in my sleep. In it, Elaine was crying and asking me to help and take her home. I woke up from the dream with sweat, in a way I was glad that it wasn’t real. I then went to check on my kids in the next room and they were sleeping. I looked at the watch and it was about 2a.m and so I went back to sleep. I remembered it was the Halloween day and my work that day was pretty usual, quite routine like any other day I must say. At night, I went home late as a number of my night duty staffs had taken leave to cerebrate the Halloween hence I stayed back to oversea the night operation to ensure everything runs smoothly. When I reached home, the kids were already in bed and the maid heated some food for me to eat after my shower. It was almost 2315p.m when my mobile phone suddenly rang. I was thinking it could be one of my staffs at the party. I answered the call and heard Elaine screaming and telling me at the top of her voice that the plane had crashed. Then as sudden as the phone rang, the line was cut off.

I tried to call her phone but it could not be reached. Immediately I turn on the TV and change the channel to CNN, there was a breaking news bar indicating that SQ006 had crashed in Taipei. I quickly went into her room and check her flight schedule. My goodness, she was working on board, I almost fainted with the word TPE staring at me from her schedule. I tried to contact the crisis center of SIA, but there was no one answering my call. There was a recorded message instructing me to leave my name and contact and promised that a staff would get in touch with me shortly but as I waited and waited, the call never came. Meanwhile the CNN kept reporting that there were many fatalities and I was in a complete lost about what to do. Should I call her mum? But she would be unable to take the news and so I decided not to let her know. Should I call her elder sister? But she is in London having a seminar so I decided not to let her know too until I found out the condition of Elaine. I was very much in hope that Elaine would make it through as it was reported in the news that there were some survivors.

I was toggling the channels between local news and CNN, both reporting were the same and so I was thinking about making a trip to the airport to find out more. It was almost 4am by now and the crisis center have not yet returned my call. I called my staff and told them I won’t be coming in the next day. Immediately, I rushed down to the crisis center at T2 and there were many ground crews giving assistance to people who had friends or families whom were on board SQ006. It was quite a mess, a very sad scene I should say with the ground crews looking lost dealing with people hungry for information. Obviously they were unable to give the accurate and correct news of the situation there at that point of time. I was quickly ushered to a counter and gave them my name, they scanned through and told me that I could take the next available flight specially arranged for the family involves.

They ask me for my passport but i did not have it with me so they took a photo of me and told me that it will be used for the visa and ushered me to a waiting Mercedes taxi and told me that the taxi would be catered specially for me to use at the cost of the airline. The taxi took me home and I grabbed some clothing and a spare jacket for Elaine. It was almost 7.30a.m in the morning and my elder son had gone to school. When I was about to leave the house, my mum called and worst of all and least expected, my mother in law also called and asked me was Elaine on board. I was blank for a moment. Thoughts were racing through my mind. Should I tell her the truth? No I decided to hold back from her for a little longer until I have information of Elaine. This also gave me more time to deal with this situation. I then turned on the TV again and found that there was one name that is written as Elane. I was thinking that it could be Elaine and they could have written it wrongly. At that time, there was still no news of fatalities or survivors. They had only the information of people who were on board that flight. I had no time to waste and told the taxi uncle to drive me back to the crisis center.

When I got back to the crisis center, there were more people arriving and it was really chaotic by this time with many people weeping and some crying loudly. There was still no sign of any high ranking Singapore Airlines staff or minsters to come forward to comfort those victims family. By now, some fatalities name were being announced on the TV but the crisis center still claimed that they were unsure of the situation and they neither denied nor confirmed the name list shown on TV. Family members and friends of victims were given seats outside the office where there were food and drinks being served. I noticed there was one entire family of about 12 people who were more like staging a wayang show. They were always eating, drinking, chatting and looking happy until whenever someone that looks like a senior staff entered the crisis center, they quickly rushed and surrounded that person and then someone in the group will be screaming or shouting loudly. Anyway the scene was very disturbing.

Shortly one ground staff came up to me, plastered a purple sticker on my chest and led me into an office. There, they asked for my passport and attached a temporary visa and gave me an envelope of US$1000.00 and asked me to count it. They told me that if the money is used up or if I need more, i can request from my personal buddy at anytime during my stay in Taipei. They were to appoint a buddy to me shortly and told me to wait for the next flight as the current flight is full. They promised that the next flight will be specially chartered for all of us.

Finally, they told us that we can board the plane and that was almost 7 pm. Why were we made to wait for such a long time? The reason was because a typhoon had landed in Taiwan. I later come to understand that SIA big gun (botak cheong) had flew all the way back from New Zealand and will be joining us on the flight. I think the waiting period was the most enduring part as I smoked one packet of 20 sticks in a few hours and that was the only time I smoked in an air con room with nobody dare to ask me to stop smoking. The reporters were very smart and I strongly believed that someone from the airport must have leaked out the information of our whereabouts because all entrances had been taken care by the police. I met one young female reporter outside the crisis center toilet and she tried to interview me to get more information. I noticed that there were few guys with big postal bag walking with us through the immigration, they were heavily guarded and I suppose they must be the cash currency SIA is sending to Taipei. My buddy was an engineer from the engineering department. When the plane took off, I was so tired and fell asleep only to be woke up by my buddy when we were about to land at CKS International airport.

As the plane was touching down onto the runway, everyone was clearly very tense and silence filled the air within the plane. The moment when the sight of the burned aircraft was seen from the window, there were crying everywhere in the aircraft. I must say that the buddies were doing a very good job when even though this was their first time in their appointment for most of them, some had an experience with the silkair incident. I was controlling my emotion all along in silent praying hard that Elaine would be all right, but when I saw the burnt down tail wing through the window, my tear started to flow down my cheeks. How to survive in such a disaster? The wind was very strong and the raindrop were so compact like the mourning tears from the sky. After we cleared through the immigration, dozens of reporter from all over the world were waiting to snap our photos and trying to interview us, we were escorted to a few waiting buses and was ferried to CKS hotel which was the nearest to the airport.

As the buses arrived at the hotel driveway, we saw some army boys building funeral tents and all the Taoist prayer items were laid and in some tents, they were conducting prayers. It was indeed a very dreadful scene. On arriving at the hotel, we were ushered to a room where foods were ready for us, but who would bothered to eat anything at this point in time. My buddy got me a bowl of porridge and a cup of hot coffee and told me that the senior boss of SIA will be holding a press conference shortly. It is really like a war zone whenever someone found out from the register counter that their loved one was in the fatalities list. I was unable to get in to find out any details as there were too many people crowding and pushing. As the press conference starts, angry family members were hurling abuses at botak cheong and that poor fellow was outnumbered and out of words when coming to answer the detail as to why SIA takes so long to reveal the name list.

I know that is the game of crisis management, SIA wanted to keep it’s reputation, and they will not announce the list until all are in here. I told my buddy to check out for me on Elaine’s condition, but he is not confident in breaking the bad news to me. Suddenly there were some scuffle by the press conference and I took the opportunity to squeeze through the crowd and finally got to the register counter. I ask for my sister in law’s name and the girl goes through the list and told me that she is not in the fatalities list, I felt that a piece of heavy stone falls off from my heart and I immediately tried to call back home to break the news. But however my phone was out of batteries and flat due to too much calls and it’s not been charged for almost 2 days. My buddy noticed that and he pass me his phone, my hands were still trembling and was unable to press the dial correctly and my buddy helps me to make the call home. My mother in law was relieved but she asked me to check out Elaine. I managed to trace her through some latest info coming over from SIA Singapore office, she had just been discharged and had been transferred to a hotel where all the surviving crews were staying. I went straight to the hotel and found that she suffered some bruises and I could smell kerosene from her body. I took the phone and called back to her mum, she was worried that she did not have any money to pay for the bill, (silly right) I told her that SIA will take care of everything. I took out the envelope from my bag and saw some clothing belonging to Elaine. My maid must have put it in while I was talking over the phone. She was so happy and I give her the envelope that contain the money given by SIA and told her that we will go shopping for some more clothing for her to use as she had been instructed not to return home until the entire surviving crew is ready. Shortly someone knocked on our door and identified themselves as investigator from the Taiwanese aviation authority. I got pissed off and told them to get out of the room when they wanted to check my identity. They left but apologized that they had been instructed to do the job. I told them to refer to SIA and we will only cooperate on the green light given by SIA. I had completely forgotten that my buddy was still in the room until he praised me for my response to those Taiwanese investigators. He was glad to see that Elaine was fine and told me that he will come back and see us the next day.

After we returned from Taipei, Elaine and all her colleagues were on medical leave for a long period of time, The group got together to discuss on their future prospect of flying again, Elaine had wanted to carry on flying after her medical leave but for some, the phobia is there. There were also some discussion on the compensation that they will be getting. The senior male crew who was an Indian chief told everybody not to go back to flying until their demand on compensation had been met. The Nolan group of legal specialist from the US were the faster to offer their help to all passengers and crews, they were knocking at my doors on the 3rd day of our return offering free legal service if they were unable to claim a minimum sum of 120k. They advised all the staff to fight for the claims in the US and not in Singapore or Taiwan court. Why? I think i don’t need to explain further. However things turned around when they realized that their Indian chief and another male crew was the first two to get back to work and both were promoted to higher appointment. Betrayal is what they all felt.

As for Elaine, her decision was to stay with the group till the case is over. After a few months, SIA decided not to continue paying the staffs that did not get back to work including those that were badly burnt. However this matter was brought up to some top man in Singapore, and that person who proposed “no pay” was booted not long after the staff continued to get their pay. As for that US$1000 that I was given by SIA, only $900 could be use, one was a fake note. For SIA i think they have to be really careful in this kind of situation where so much cash is needed in such a short period and they should improve more on their response for calls received by the crisis center. Just one crook within and the amount of lost is going to be great. Elaine decided to keep that note for remembrance of her jump down from burning plane in the business class onto the tar of the runway in the dark during a stormy and disastrous night. From then onwards SQ006 disappeared from the flight list. It was replaced by SQ30. 1 cockpit crew went back flying while the other 2 was retrenched during the Sars period. One cabin crew that betrayed the rest was charged in court and jailed for killing someone during a hit and run accident – Signing off for SQ006 from Taipei CKS international airport.

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  1. Thank you for sharing the incident. It’s really a scary disastor.
    When I saw the catastrophic scene, the same thought come to mind :
    How can one survive the air-crash ? It’s too terrible.
    So, the flight attendants must be well-trained. Their role is really not just a simple server.
    It’s really an amazing job.
    I’m from Taiwan and like Elaine, I’ve always been dreaming of being a flight attendant.
    This year, Singapore Airlines will hold a recruitment of cabin crew in Taiwan.
    I’d like to give it a try. Hope being able to be part of the great team !
    Best wishes for you and for your family.

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