Darkness in the Sunshine

PhotoCredits: The Star
Paratroopers scattered around the airport and surroundings 

Some landed heavily or were dragged by the wind
It was the 2nd of December, Sunday morning, and at the end of a three day enjoyable but hectic schedule on the magical, sun-blest islands of Langkawi. I was due to catch the 12.30 afternoon ferry back to the mainland. Until then, there was nothing else to do after breakfast but to finally take a swim in the cool, clear, inviting waters off Cenang Beach.

I was enjoying the relative quiet and calm, just floating in the calm sea and occasionally diving to the bottom to pick up some shell that I could see at the bottom. Earlier, the fishermen were dragging in their nets near the shore but that activity had stopped. Being a sleepy Sunday morning, the large hordes of tourists had not yet arrived and apart from a few friends tossing a ball about a hundred meters away and a handful of sun-bathers, there was nothing but the sea, the sun and the relaxing lapping of the gentle waves.

At about 10.30 am., the peace was to be shattered by the sound of the sonic boom of jet fighters. In two days time, the island was hosting LIMA 2007 (Langkawi International Maritime Aerospace). This showcase of the best in naval and aeronautical products was attracting planes, ships and buyers from around the world. In the lead up to the event, planes were flying and practicing their routines. The famous British Red Arrows Aerobatic Team was also present.

At first, I resented the loud intrusion to my quiet time but then I paid attention to the planes booming past. Someone had told me that there would be Harrier jets and that was a plane that I was interested in seeing. However, the jets had flown by and ended their runs. Instead, there were at least 4 large propeller transport planes slowly lumbering across the sky but they were divulging paratroopers as they went. Soon we were treated to the sight of long lines of parachutes floating slowly and gracefully to the ground. It was quite a wonderful sight.

However, we could not see from so far away that in fact the paratroopers were in grave trouble. The 138 paratroopers from the 10th Brigade Para based at Terendak Camp, Malacca were taking part in a full dressed rehearsal of a mock exercise in demonstrating the capture of an airstrip by airborne forces. This exercise is meant to be part of the opening ceremony for LIMA 2007. Unfortunately, the paratroopers were buffeted by gusts of high winds which resulted in lines getting entangled and up to 18 paratroopers blown off course. Some landed heavily at the airport and were dragged along the tarmac by the strong winds. Some landed on planes and other equipment, breaking bones. A few landed in the nearby town, smashing through roofs, getting caught up in trees or landing on cars. Some were carried out by the wind into the sea.

In the end, three died and eleven others were seriously injured. The dead which included two women were identified as Trooper Raimond Duncan, 25, from Simunjan, Sarawak; Private Nurul Wahida Yunos, 20, from Tanjung Malim, Perak; and Ranger Siti Hajar Yakub, 24, from Masjid Tanah, Malacca. One drowned and the other two died of hypothermia.

Of course, Malaysians are all shocked by this tragedy and we grieve with those whose loved ones have been lost or injured. For me, it seemed so surreal that while I was enjoying the sun and the sea, this life and death drama was unfolding in front of my eyes.

Death striking in the full glare of the tropical sun and tragedy painted amidst the peaceful, azure waters. It did not seem right. It feels like Paradise has been tainted and corrupted.

Others landed on top of planes and equipment.
(Planes of the RAF Red Arrows in background)

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