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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 26, 1999 – PACNEWS/INCL/Fiji Times)---Three Australian air accident investigators have begun an inquiry into the fatal Air Fiji crash on Saturday morning, which claimed the lives of 17 people.

The investigators from Australia’s Bureau of Air Safety Investigations arrived in the country yesterday.

Air Fiji Chief Executive Ken McDonald said the officers will help determine the cause of the crash.

McDonald confirmed the accident involving flight PC 121 was the worst in Fiji’s aviation history.

The Brazilian-made Bandeirante aircraft crashed in mountainous terrain in the interior of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. The victims, including the two pilots, were traveling from Nausori Airport to Nadi International Airport when their plane crashed into the side of a mountain in the Namosi Highlands, minutes after it left Nausori Airport at 5:25 a.m.

Police have officially released the names of all the victims. They are pilot Kitione Galuinadi and co-pilot Filipe Racule; Air Pacific pilot (passenger) Nacanieli Saumi; Managing Director of Farah Garments Rajendra Solanki; local businessman and former Senator Kaur Battan Singh; local community worker Mosese Latu; ANZ Fiji Bank Officer and former wife of Attorney-General Anand Singh, Urmila Singh; Singh’s 20-year-old daughter Raewyn Singh; architect Michael Houng-Lee; AusAID workers Dr. Christopher Kolenberg, Ray Lloyd, and Claire Bleakley; Australian flight attendant Sarah Gidney and her two-year-old daughter Elena; Tongan Tevita Maka; New Zealand national Dr. Peter Chin Min Yong; and K. Watanabe of Japan.

The bodies of 16 of the victims have been recovered and transported to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.

Assistant Commissioner of Police – Crime, Moses Driver, confirmed the body of Kuar Battan Singh is still at the crash site and expected to be airlifted today.

Close to 100 police and army personnel have been stationed at the crash site.

Police Commissioner Isikia Savua said his officers are investigating reports of theft and looting by local villagers at the crash site.

However, Commissioner Savua said he would not like to blame anybody until investigations are completed.

"It is too early to point a finger at anybody about what actually happened. Recrimination and finger pointing at this time is a bit too early and unfair on the people," he said.

The Fiji Times reported angry families of the 17 victims lashed out at police for taking so long to get to the crash site.

They also raised questions linked to the search and rescue services. The first emergency crew arrived at the wreckage at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. The crash happened about 5:40 a.m.

The Bandeirante apparently did not have a "black box," a flight recorder which records communications between the pilots from the time the aircraft engine is switched on until it is switched off.

Fiji’s civil aviation regulations do not require aircraft which carry fewer than 30 passengers to install "black boxes."


By Josephine Prasad

SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 26, 1999 – Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The body of a [University of the South Pacific] librarian, Mosese Latu, was still missing yesterday as police officers started bringing down the bodies of people who died in Saturday's Air Fiji plane crash in Naitasari, the Daily Post reports.

It is believed that his body is trapped under the fuselage.

Only the bodies of 16 people have been found, police said. There were 17 people on board, 15 passengers and two pilots.

Dead are six Australians, one New Zealander, one Tongan and nine Fiji Islanders.

They were:

Pilot Kitione Galuinadi. He was 27 years old and the son of Fiji Sugar Corporation managing director Jonetani Galuinadi. He went to Queen Victoria School and was a keen rugby player.

Co-pilot Filipe Racule, 26. He was a member of the Freelancers band and was to have turned 26 on Wednesday. He was the son of former school principal Ratu Amani Racule.

Claire Bleakley, 44. She was an Australian aid worker who was returning to Tonga.

Lloyd Ray, 43. He was an Australian aid worker and he was also returning to Tonga.

Peter Young. He was an Australian-based New Zealand citizen. He worked in Fiji for two years as an Australian-funded consultant with the Customs Department. He was returning home to his family in Adelaide after working here for two years. He was expected back in Fiji by April next year. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Kuar Battan Singh, 68. The prominent Nausori businessman was going to Melbourne for medical checks.

Esteen Singh, 47. She was the former wife of Attorney-General Anand Singh. She was a bank officer and she was going to Melbourne to visit her sister.

Raewyn Singh, 20. She was the daughter of Esteen and Mr. Singh. She was a law student working as a part-time bank teller. She was traveling with her mother to Melbourne.

Nacanieli Saumi. He was an Air Pacific pilot and he was going to Nadi to take a flight to Australia.

Dr. Chris Kohlenberg. He was an Australian aid worker who was returning to Australia from business in Fiji.

Michael Houng-Lee, 47. He was going to Australia to meet his wife. He was an architect and owner of Suva's Shooters nightclub.

Sarah Gidney, 32. She was a hostess for Qantas and was returning home to Australia.

Elaine Gyidne, 2. She was Sarah's daughter returning home with her mother.

Rajendra Solanki. He was the managing director of Farah Garments. He was going to a sales conference in Sydney. He is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Mosese Latu, 34. He was going to Australia.

Koichi Watanabe, 53. He worked for the United Nations in Bangkok and he was returning there.

Tevita Maka, 38. He was from Tonga and he was visiting friends in Fiji. His relatives from Tonga and America are coming to Fiji.

Police Commissioner Isikia Savua said a helicopter would try lifting the fuselage today to free Mr. Latu's body.

Last night, relatives were at Nausori airport to identify the bodies.

There will be post-mortems before the bodies are released to relatives.

At least 20 police officers are involved in the operation.

® The Daily Post.

Title -- 2247 DISASTERS: USP librarian's body reported missing Date -- 26 July 1999 Byline -- Josephine Prasad

Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Fiji's Daily Post, 26/7/99 Copyright – FDP Status -- Abridged

This document is for educational and research use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting.

PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific.

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