BY SCOTT WAIDE
The fourth year Information Systems student sits with his hands clasped in front of him in a Divine Word University student services conference room as he recounts those anxious hours.
“I was clinging to the hope that the plane had gone down in Transgogol (along the Lae-Madang highway),” he said. “I don’t know where the information came from but they said the plane crash-landed near the highway and that there were no casualties. It was quite relieving to think that.”
Reginald, along with senior members of DWU’s Student Representative Council, were setting up a tent and making other preparations for a celebration on the weekend – a celebration that included their parents – when a sudden storm interrupted the preparations.
Like many Papua New Guineans in such situations, he knew something was wrong even before news of the crash arrived.
“My palms were sweaty and they felt like pins and needles. They felt numb. There was this overwhelming feeling and I knew something was wrong.”
At 5pm, Reginald dialled his mum’s phone number. Then he sent text messages. No answer. At 5.05pm he made another call. Then another at 5.10pm.
Around that that time Allan Kwalu, another student who was there helping with the preparations, got a call from students who had gone to Madang airport to pick up their parents who were supposed to arrive on the Airlines PNG flight.
“Someone called and said they got news that there had been a plane crash,” Allan said. “That message… I couldn’t pass on to Reggie. I was thinking hard about what to say to him when he got a call on his phone.”
Allan didn’t hear exactly what was being said but he knew the content of the message when Reginald began crying.
For many, those hours just passed like a blur. Paula and John Paul Matlam lost five members of their family. Maggie Wata lost her mum and her aunt. Cecilia Bula, a fourth year PNG studies student, lost both her parents. Grace Bid lost a brother and Clara Bal her mum.
When evening came, the Divine Word University community continued to piece together the information that was trickling in from various sources. At the police station, Allan said there was already some indication tha the news wasn’t good but he also tried to push that thought out of his mind.
“We couldn’t find the words to tell them. There is nothing that you can say that will bring comfort to those who lost a mum or mum and dad.”
Reginald Renagi’s determination to find his mother took him all the way to Raikos. It took him and a cousin four hours before they reached the site of the crash. Reginald said he tried preparing himself mentally but still hung on to the hope that his mum was somewhere.
“I kept calling her phone and it said: ‘Your call will be charged…”
Reginald and several others remained at the crash site until daybreak. When the sun began rising he said he couldn’t call his dad.
“I called my sister. I said: Michelle… and I didn’t know what to say....
“I said: ‘I can’t see mum anywhere. I think mum is gone’.”