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Monday, May 21, 2012

SSJ100 Accident: Reflections after a week

My friend Andi D, has been very helpful in providing me information on what he could remember, and the photos he took during the first demo flight that day. He had shared his story too at the local aviation enthusiast site forum at Indoflyer.net.

His story was one of a narrow and lucky escape.

What I remember was, I went on the first flight and sat on row #3. On the left wall I can still see some small cables that emerged from the wall to the rear. I asked one of the persons from Sukhoi. He answered, "this aircraft is still being used for flight tests, so there are still those cables and the flight test monitoring equipment at the rear cabin."

A few moments later, Yudi (Arif Wahyudi) from Trimarga (who went down with the plane later that day), counted and reconciled the passenger list and the aircraft doors were closed. He shouldn't joined the flight because he was holding the manifest, but the door was closed before he could leave. The aircraft pushed back, and Captain Setyaki (Chief pilot or Manager of Operations for Sky Aviation) was seated in the cockpit jumpseat. The aircraft pushed back, and a Sky Aviation flight attendant did an announcement (but without a safety demonstration), and soon, we took off from runway 24. As soon as the aircraft lifted off the ground, claps were heard, and the aircraft climbed. The climb was steep and moments later we turned to the left.

I guessed we were heading towards Bogor, but I can see a mountain (Mt. Salak?) to my right. After reaching 10000ft, it appears that the captain reduced the speed, and we were flying very slowly and the flaps were deployed shortly before he opened power and the engine power can be heard increasing before coming back to normal speed. The Sky Aviation flight attendants then began serving drinks (including champagne) to the passengers. The plane then turned to the left, and then to the right. The turn to the right went for a while, it felt like a 360 turn, but I woudn't know, I forgot, so I lost my orientation as to where the aircraft was going. But I can feel that power was reduced and added, maybe he was showing off the engine performance.

I heard someone mention that the each engine was rated to 18,000 pounds, so that in certain conditions the aircraft can take off with only 1200 meters of runway.

After that, I walked to the cockpit. I think I was the only passenger that went to the cockpit. I stood behind Capt. Setyaki and talked to the Russian captain, asking him where our position was. However, I find his english difficult to understand, and Capt. Setyaki explained to me that we are now heading towards AL, to intercept the ILS for runway 24. I stood there for about 5 minutes, and looked at the glass cockpit but I don't know much about it.

Approaching AL, with Capt. Setyaki on the jumpseat taking photos himself
We intercepted ILS24, and the approach was smooth, with an even smoother touchdown on runway 24, and we stopped in a very short distance. This was met with claps and cheers by the passengers, and we entered the taxiway via taxiway Bravo.

My impression as a passenger? The aircraft itself was impressive, the seatpitch was generous, the aisle was wide... good for flight attendants that are not thin. But there are no individual airconditioning vents on the passenger overhead panel.

So, I conclude that the aircraft took off from runway 24, towards Bogor, then headed back to Halim, without going to Pelabuhan Ratu area (on the south coast).

Nam Than (right) explaining the Powerjet to Andi D (center)
I'm very thankful to God that I didn't fly again on the second flight. When I left the aircraft, a friend from Merpati whom I promised to meet for the flight, could only turn up at 1pm. Obviously, I asked him to talk and chat with the guys from Sukhoi under the nose of the aircraft with Mr. Nam Tran (VP Sales Asia Pacific for Powerjet) and Sergei (Director of Sales from SCAC). They were giving out souvenirs and they both asked my friend to join the second flight, and I was willing to accompany him for the second flight.

Arif Wahyudi (left) from Trimarga, who later perished onboard the 2nd flight
He refused, he had a meeting to go to in the afternoon. I must thank God again for that, but incredibly, he also refused to go the lounge where there was a reception going on (so we continued to talk on the apron under the aircraft's nose). I'm pretty sure that had he gone in to the lounge and met Capt. Aan (Kartika), Capt. Herman, directors from Pelita and his other colleagues, he wouldn't be able to refuse joining the second flight, and I would have joined him too for the second flight.

Andi, after the 1st flight.
My friend escaped. My other friend at Sky Aviation, didn't.

I had a meetup with a couple of friends at Halim Airport this afternoon. After we finished, I walked around Halim's terminal on my own. It was quiet and eery. As evening came, the terminal was literally deserted. I walked past the arrivals on the way to catch a taxi back, and flower bouquet boards sent from many companies and persons, with signs expressing their condolences to the victims of the accident. It was quite depressing for me, and the fragrance of the flowers from the bouquet only added to the sad scene. 

As I walked by the door of the deserted arrivals hall, that doubles as the media and crisis center for the accident, I couldn't help but wonder, if my friend had been identified amongst the numerous body bags, and bags of body parts that made it to the nearby National Police Hospital. Just as I wondered, I received a message on my phone from a friend, "Ilma has been identified. She was in the second body bag that was sent to the hospital."

My question was answered. It was time to go home.

I entered the taxi, and the driver was very happy to have a passenger that's real in person. He was worried that he'd have a ghost from the flight as a passenger.

As the taxi sped down the relatively empty roads of Jakarta thanks to the long weekend, I got more information. "Her family is going to the hospital on Tuesday, to visually inspect the body before they close the casket for the last time, and she will be officially handed over to the family the next day."

I couldn't help remember Andi's lucky escape... before thinking what would my family be doing now if I was on that second flight...

Rest in Peace Ilma, you can now fly higher and happier, forever. Rest in Peace.

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