Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tanjung Kupang Tragedy

Ruby Kuan Guat Choo (KGC) is a Penang author of many books. She helped me to locate Datuk Paduka Dr Abdul Wahab's wife who lives in Tanjong Bungah, Penang. Mr Tan Hock Chuan at GH Penang also knows Datuk Paduka Dr Abdul Wahab's wife.

This message below is dedicated to KGC, who lost her son, her sister and brother-in-law in the aircrash at Tanjung Kupang.


Date of tragedy: Sunday, 4 December 1977
Flight number: MH653
Flight route: domestic, Penang-Subang
Departure: Penang 7.15 pm
ETA: Subang 7.55 pm
Type of aircraft used for flight: Boeing 737
Number of passengers: 100 people (93 passengers + 7 crew)
What happened?
When the aircraft reached Subang, it did not land. The pilot had radioed, "Hijackers aboard" and the flight was diverted to Singapore.
Crash site: Tanjung Kupang, Johor
Nature of crash:
Possibly vertical gravitational accelerated nose dive, ending in inevitable high impact crash with total disintegration. The resultant explosion on impact and fire razed everything. The blast possibly further disintegrated all life forms and objects. No survivors.
Lives lost: 93 passengers + 7 crew (all 100 people died; no survivors)
Pilot: Captain GK Ganjoor, an Indian expatriate pilot with MAS
Cause of air crash: Unknown (no bullets found, no evidence of hijack found)
Post observation:
Site was severely burnt, no skull found, all remains unidentified, nothing identifiable except for 10 limbs found.
Description by loved ones after visiting the crash site:
Totally burnt site, petrified odour of corpses/blood, flesh? sticking to objects, etc


Reconstructed based on MAS, news and newspaper accounts.

Night flight, Sunday, 4 December 1977
Depart: 7.15 pm, flight MH653 left Penang
ETA KL 7.55 pm (40 min flight)
7.54 pm
Malaysian air traffic control informed MAS of hijack
Overflying KL to Singapore.
Pilot attempted to land at KL ... in landing approach ... got landing clearance
Pilot told Subang authorities that he had to overfly Subang airport.
Pilot said to control tower: "Hijackers aboard."
The plane immediately proceeded to Singapore.
MAS went on an emergency alert.
8.04 pm
MAS received info from Singapore.
ETA Singapore 8.30 pm.
8.30 pm
Description from a resident and eyewitness who was attending wedding party in village. He saw a plane shrieking over the coconut tree tops, flying erratically. Then heard a loud explosion followed by flames, area lit up, loud bang left ringing in ears. Plane careered upwards after the blast and then dipped to crash into the swamp. There was a second explosion.
Several police officers at nearby Kg Ladang also heard the twin explosions within minutes.
They summoned help: fire engines, ambulances and a medical team from GH JB, scores of reserve unit troopers.
8.36 pm
KL air traffic control advised MAS operations despatch that the plane had crashed in Singapore.
9.15 pm
KL air traffic control confirmed that the crash took place in Tuas, Jurong.
Later MAS learnt
Paya Lebar control tower (in Singapore) had advised the pilot to descend from 10,000 feet to 7,000 feet. Nothing else was known.
9.30 pm
CPO JB and CID chief AC arrived on scene to direct operations.
Cordon off area as rescue workers went in.
1 am (after midnight)
There were no survivors found.


Monday, 5 December 1977

Shortly after 1 am (still dark)
Foreign press corps and next-of-kin of some passengers arrived.
They were prevented from entering the cordoned area.
7 am (early morning)
Malaysian Minister for Communications and a 23-member investigation team
(comprising CAD and MAS officials) arrived from Singapore, flyout from KL.
They were taken to the scene.
Studied the scene for 1 hour.
By evening
Police and military officers recovered 54 plastic bags of human remains.
These were taken to GH JB mortuary for examination.
At night, the DG reported
The 3rd DG MoH was Dr Raja Ahmad Noordin bin Raja Shahbudin.
He told reporters that the remains would not be returned to relatives.
They would be buried by the Government.
None of the victims was recognisable.
The hijacking was still being investigated
Relatives of the victims in Penang and KL waited for MAS to fly them to JB
'to identify bodies of the dead'.



Memorial site: Jalan Kebun Teh, Tanjung Kupang, Johor. Memorial bears the names of the aircrash victims.

What is in our memory?
This was the first aircrash in MAS history. I was in 2nd year university in California when I heard about it. I only met KGC at Gurney Hotel in Penang when she came to see me about my book, The Early Malay Doctors.



YouTube videos
Tanjong Kupang Tragedy (with initial flight animation)
Tanjong Kupang Tragedy (names of passengers)

Newspaper links
PHOTO NEWS SPECIAL 1 There was no need for these stretchers
The Straits Times, 6 December 1977, Page 10
- has 3 photos of the crash site
- article gives exact times of flights and ETA in Subang and Singapore
- when the airplane was at Subang, it did not land but overflew and headed for Singapore.
- OTW to Singapore, the airplane flew low (over the tops of coconut trees) exploded in mid-air, nosed up and crashed, exploded a second time. The engine was buried in the swamp mud.
- stretches were brought by emergency rescue, but there were no survivors. Only a few limbs, burnt pieces of flesh.
- the air smelled of kerosene (aircraft petrol) and stench from the burnt corpses.
- there were witnesses from among the nearby villagers who were at a wedding reception that night.
- police officers at nearby village also heard the twin explosions
- the (third) Director-General of Health at the time was Dr Raja Ahmad Noordin bin Raja Shahbudin. He had instructed for the remains to be buried in a mass grave.

- - - - - 
This is from KGC:

On Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 8:17 AM, kuan guat choo wrote:
Dear Dr Faridah,

Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts. It is 35 years now but I still grieve for them.

My son's name is in the 1st row - Go Soon Teik
My sister's name is under 'K'  -  Kuan Guat Hoon
My brother-in-law's name is under Chuah Leong Hai.

Have a good day.

- - - -

These photos are from Tanjong Kupang Tragedy

Friends will come and friends will go,
The seasons change and it will show,
I will age and so will you,
But our friendship stays, strong and true.
May your loved ones rest in peace.