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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 26, 1999 -PINA Nius Online/Fiji Times/Daily Post)---A Tongan has been identified as among those killed when Air Fiji flight PC 121 crashed in the rugged interior of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.

The Fiji Times today reported Tevita Maka, 38, unexpectedly caught the fatal flight. He was scheduled to fly from Suva on Tuesday. But American visas he was seeking for a group of 30 Tongans were approved earlier than expected by the United States Embassy, Suva, the paper quoted a niece as saying. So he changed his flight.

All 17 people aboard the twin-engine Bandeirante died on Saturday when it crashed soon after a 5:25 a.m. takeoff from Suva on what should have been a 30-minute flight across the island to Nadi International Airport.

The Fiji Times quoted Mr. Maka's niece, Palu Manuofetoa, as describing him as a "devoted family man" who lives in the United States,

She said he arrived last Tuesday and stayed with them. She told The Fiji Times, "He came in last week with his two daughters, dropped them in Tonga and then came back to lodge visa applications. He is a very kind man. All the travel and expenses involved with the visa applications were paid by him.

"He was supposed to go back this coming Tuesday but the applications were approved early. Even the people back in Tonga did not know that he was flying back early.

"It was while I was washing that I heard about the crash on the radio. I woke my husband (a USP student) and asked him which flight Tevita was catching.

"He said it was the Air Fiji flight that the radio said had crashed."

She said she had contacted family members in Tonga.

Mr. Maka's brothers arrive tomorrow to take his body to America, The Fiji Times said.

The Fiji Times today also reported the lucky stories of two people who were supposed to catch the flight which crashed but missed it.

Air Pacific pilot William Gardiner's alarm clock did not wake him as scheduled. When his wife rushed him to the airport, PC 121 was already taking off, The Fiji Times reported. His fellow Air Pacific pilot, Nacanieli Saumi, caught the flight and died.

Senator and church and social worker Paula Sotutu was scheduled to catch the flight but was held up at home by church commitments. He called the airport to rebook on a flight which left a little later.

The Fiji Times and Daily Post today published the first full lists of those killed. They included:

- Prominent local business people Rajendra Solanki, Kaur Battan Singh, and Michael Houng Lee.

- Australian aid workers Christopher Kolenberg (or Kohlenberg), Peter Young, Ray Lloyd and Clare Bleakley. Mr. Lloyd and Ms. Bleakley were returning to Tonga, where they were working.

- The former wife and the daughter of Fiji's Attorney General, Anand Singh.

- Three local pilots, Kitione Galuinadi, 27, and Filipe Racule, 26, of Air Fiji; and Nacanieli Saumi, the Air Pacific pilot on his way to Nadi to begin work.

The Fiji Times also reported growing concern over the lack of coordination in the response to the crash by police, civil aviation and government agencies.

It questioned the police delay in getting to the crash site on a hillside and securing it. It said despite police claims it was not accessible on foot, journalists and villagers were able to trek three hours through the jungle and reach it.

The Fiji Times said because of the police delay there were reports of people taking away personal belongings from the aircraft wreckage. It called this behavior "outrageous" but said if the police were doing their job it would not have happened.


SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 25, 1999 - PINA Nius Online/Sunday Times/Sunday Post)---Two Australian aid workers from Tonga were among the 17 people killed in yesterday's crash of Air Fiji flight PC 121, Fiji Islands newspapers reported today.

The Sunday Times identified them as:

- Ray Lloyd, 42.

- Clare Bleakley, 44.

It said they were on their way back to Tonga after attending a training meeting in Suva the previous day.

The Sunday Times said Mr. Lloyd was responsible for the development of aid programs in Tonga and Ms. Bleakley was a project supervisor.

The twin-engine turboprop Bandeirante crashed in hills in the rugged interior of Fiji's main island Viti Levu soon after its 5:25 a.m. take off from Suva en route across the island to Nadi International Airport.

All aboard were killed, Police Commissioner Isikia Savia said.

Fiji news media reported the crash happened about 10 minutes after take off into the early morning darkness and there was no emergency call from the plane.

Bandeirantes normally take about 30 minutes to cross the island. The early-morning Air Fiji flights from Suva's Nausori airport are usually full of people going to Nadi to catch international flights.

Mr. Lloyd and Ms Bleakley were believed to be on their way to catch Saturday morning's Nadi-Nuku'alofa Air Pacific flight.

Fiji newspapers reported nine Fiji citizens and eight foreigners were on the flight. They included five Australian nationals, one New Zealander, one Japanese, and one Chinese, according to The Sunday Times.

Fiji’s Sunday Post identified those killed as including Kuar Battan Singh, 68, a businessman and former senator; Rajendra Solanki, managing director of Farah Garments in Suva; and an Air Pacific pilot Filipe Racule, 25, who was on his way to begin work at Nadi.

Asela Kalamailagi, a villager from Delailasikau, in the area of the crash, said she was preparing breakfast when she heard the plane, The Sunday Times reported. She said: "I heard the plane and it sounded like any plane that usually flies over us. Not long after the sound changed ... it was like a cracking sound when you're trying to start a truck that can't start." She said seconds later she heard an explosion and ran out of her house.

Another villager, Etuate Qereqeretabua, told The Sunday Times, "The light from the crash lit up the whole village. We thought the crash was near because the light was so bright but when the boys ran to check they confirmed that it was near the peaks of the mountains."

Six men sent by the village chief immediately set out for the crash site to see if they could help survivors, taking three hours to climb to the wreckage, The Sunday Times reported. They found no one alive.

Meanwhile, after the plane failed to arrive at Nadi a search plane was sent to trace the route, Air Fiji chief executive Ken MacDonald said. It spotted the wreckage and emergency crews were sent, including by helicopter.

Mr. MacDonald said the aircraft passed a routine inspection and servicing the day before the flight. Both pilots were experienced and fully qualified, he said. Mr. MacDonald said there was no report of problems in the pilot’s last communication with air traffic control.

Low clouds and rain were reported in some areas along the route at the time of the crash. Police Commissioner Savua was reported in The Sunday Times as saying the area of the crash is known for air turbulence.

Mr. Savua said a helicopter inspection showed the wings of the aircraft on two sides of the steep volcanic slope, with the fuselage broken off and scattered.

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has asked Australia to send an air accident inspector to help the Civil Aviation Authority of the Fiji Islands investigate the cause of the crash.


SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 25, 1999 – Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---One of Fiji's leading garment manufacturers, Rajendra Solanki, and Nausori businessman Kuar Battan Singh were among the 17 people who died in a plane crash in Namosi yesterday, the Daily Post reports.

The nation's worst air disaster occurred minutes after Air Fiji flight PC 121 left Nausori Airport at 5:25 a.m. for Nadi.

It crashed at Mataicicia Hills, near Delailasakau village, in Nataisiri, killing the 15 passengers and two crewmembers. Most of the passengers, some from abroad, were traveling to Nadi to catch overseas flights.

The wreckage of the Bandeirante aircraft was spotted by a search aircraft, which was sent up to trace the route when the plane failed to arrive.

Emergency teams were dispatched to the crash site by helicopter, because it is inaccessible by road.

[Eight foreigners reportedly on board included five Australians, one New Zealander, a Japanese and a Chinese national.]

Mr. Singh, 68, a former senator was on his way to catch a flight to Melbourne for his annual medical check. His son, Surendra Singh, said the family will start gathering today and the others are expected to arrive early next week.

Yesterday, people trickled into Delailasakau from neighboring villages with mats, wreaths and bouquets in an outpouring of grief for the dead and their families. The gifts were presented to airline and aviation officials who were there to visit the crash site.

Mr. Solanki, the managing director of Farah Garments, in Suva, was on his way to a sales conference in Sydney.

Pilot Filipe Racule, a member of the Freelancers band, was also on the flight. He will miss out on celebrating his 26th birthday next Wednesday.

Mr. Racule was on his way to Tonga to work. He was the son of former principal Ratu Amani Racule.

Another victim is pilot Kitione Galuinadi, son of Fiji Sugar Corporation's managing director Jonetani Galuinadi.

Mr. (Kitione) Galuinadi went to Queen Victoria School and was a keen rugby player.

A long time officer of the ANZ Bank, Esteen Singh, and her 18-year-old daughter were also on the flight.

Last night her family said police had not confirmed that she and her daughter had died. Mrs. Singh was formerly married to Anand Kumar Singh, who is the Attorney General.

An architect and owner of a nightclub is also understood to have been on the flight. But this could not be confirmed with his family yesterday.

Last night his family said he was supposed to be on the flight and police officers had called to inquire about him.

His wife is believed to be abroad.

Delailasakau villagers asked police to allow them to wrap up the bodies in mats, instead of putting them in plastic body bags, before their families were called to identify them.

Police said that they had instructions to follow and the villagers would not be allowed to show their respects for the dead in this manner.

The bodies are expected to be airlifted and brought to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva today.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minster Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed said she was deeply saddened and shocked by the tragedy.

"The government extends its deepest sympathy to families of the victims," she said.

Adi Kuini said she hoped that the whole country will be united to pray for comfort and peace to those "loved ones" who have been lost in this tragedy.

Last night a police team was being transported to the crash site.

Police said chainsaws would be needed to fell trees and to cut the cockpit of the plane.

Dr. Yogendra Narayan, of Nadi, who was at the scene, said it was difficult to get a clear picture but said that he found no one alive.

A New Zealand air crash expert arrived yesterday to inspect the site. He is expected to make a report soon.

Title -- 2242 DISASTERS: Seventeen die in Fiji's worst air crash

Date -- 25 July 1999 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Daily Post (Fiji), 25/7/99 Copyright -- Daily Post Status – Unabridged

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