ABOUT 50 people have died in plane crashes since 1979.
Among the first casualties was a 24-year-old Australian pilot.
The plane crash near Naruwai Village in Bua in July 1979 claimed the lives of eight passengers, four of whom, ironically, were on their way to attend a funeral.
The 9.46am flight from Nausori to Vanua Levu disappeared only to be discovered three days later after an intensive joint search by villagers of Bua, police and civil aviation authorities. The remnants of that fateful Fiji Air Islander aircraft, whose flight was to have taken no more than 40 minutes, included the bodies of passengers who reports described as being strewn like broken dolls when their plane plunged into a gully. The passengers died instantly as the plane went down in mountainous country described then as a misty turbulent area, reports said. The passengers included Ruth Manulevu, 53, her sister-in-law 42-year-old Mary Ah Tong, Elizabeth Peckham, 30, and her brother William, who was 26 years old, all of Lami. Esala Delai of Suva was killed in the crash with Aritema Warua of Macuata. The pilot was Gary Cope of Australia and the passengers included New Zealand hikers John and Sandy Stevenson of Makarori, Gisborne, who were on holiday in Fiji. Two nights after the plane disappeared in the Seatura range, relatives of passengers were hoping they were alive and stranded somewhere.
"We won't give up hope, for we know deep inside that they're stranded somewhere in those mountains," said Amy Manulevu, then 21, of her mother Ruth who was on that flight. The search was intensive. Naruwai villagers set out as early as 6.30am to comb the jungle and rough terrain five miles from Naruwai. Nausori control tower contacted Air Fiji at 11.40am that day to report the flight which left at 9.46am was overdue in reporting its position. The second fatal air crash in 1981 claimed the life of passenger Tommy Hong of the US. He died from injuries sustained in a plane crash in the Bay of Islands in Lami. The Turtle Airways Cessna 172 light aircraft was chartered to fly from Nadi to Suva in what was described by survivors as a flight through hell.
The third fatality was on September 1986 which claimed the life of Feweni Veikoso one of three passengers on a flight from Vanuabalavu in 1983 on a Fiji Air Riley Heron. The other passenger, Davendra Lal, was seriously injured and later claimed compensation. Ms Veikoso was on her way to New Zealand to attend a funeral when the plane she was in hit the trees on take-off and burst into flames.
In December the same year, 11 passengers died after their Sunflower Airlines aircraft crashed near Nadi airport. Media reports said there was a loud bang before the Heron tilted sideways and crashed with a loud sound like a dynamite explosion. Two passengers were identified as a married couple from New York.
Three survived the crash including two-year-old Vinita Swamy who lost her mother and five-month-old sister. She was taken to the hospital with a swollen leg. Attempts to save the baby were futile.
In 1988, three passengers on a Cessna 172 plane which crashed near Rabi Island died from injuries. The flight from Nausori to Rabi had businessman Gus Caine, Maika Tora and Robert Douglas. The wreckage from the plane was hauled from the sea and taken to Tukavesi Village in Buca Bay where it serves as a shelter from the sun for children out for a swim in nearby waters. It is also used by village women to dry their pandanus leaves and some to dry clothes and beddings.
In July 1999, 17 passengers died as the Air Fiji plane they were in crashed at Delailasakau Village in the highlands of Namosi.
The accident gripped the hearts of many as chief pilot Kitione Galuinadi, co-pilot Filipe Racule and Air Pacific pilot Nacanieli Saumi were among the dead. As owner and operator of Fiji's airports, Civil Authority of the Fiji Islands said it played a critical role in the safety and co-ordination of aircraft incidents. Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and local regulatory body the Civil Aviation Authority of the Fiji Islands, AFL is required to ensure and maintain certain standards of safety and procedures in an emergency. In a crash or emergency, AFL initiates and co-ordinates an emergency operations centre which liaises with the police, fire department, medical authorities, media, crash site command and stakeholders affected or required. Co-ordination and control is handed to police once the accident has been classified as a national crisis, AFL said. "In the case of a large aircraft disaster or off-site (outside a defined airport radius), the national disaster management office may take up the role of the emergency operations centre," AFL said.
A brief history of air crashes and near misses
July 12, 1979: Nine people and the pilot died as a Fiji Air plane crashed in the Seatura mountains in Bua.
November 23, 1981: Four people survived Turtle Airways plane crash in Bay of Islands, Lami.
November 4, 1983: A Fiji Air Twin Otter veered off the runway at Savusavu and hit a fence. Eight passengers not harmed.
August 13, 1984: Sunflower Airlines pilot and five tourists not harmed after plane developed engine problems from Nadi to Deuba.
December 9, 1985: Two pilots of an 18-seater Heron made an emergency landing without the aircraft's nose wheel at Nausori airport.
May 6, 1986: Fiji Air Beachcraft Baron landed on its belly at Nausori Airport. No one died.
September 11, 1986: A Fiji Air Riley Heron crashed on take-off at Vanuabalavu. A passenger died and one was injured.
December 27, 1986: 11 passengers and two pilots died when a Sunflower Heron crashed at Nadi.
August 21, 1988: A pilot and 11 passengers escaped injuries when the Sunflower Airlines Heron burst into flames.
September 27, 1988: Three passengers died when a Cessna 172 crashed near Rabi Island.
April 2, 1988: A Sunflower Airlines pilot escaped unharmed when his plane crashed into a hill at Calia, Navua.
November 10, 1988: Ten people cheat death when a Sunflower plane crashed at Vunitavola near Matei, Taveuni.
October 5, 1990: A Cessna crashed in a rice paddy near Lomanikoro Village, Bua. Three passengers not harmed.
1993: An Air Fiji plane crashed at Nausori killing the sole passenger and the pilot.
August 23, 1997: Air Pacific Boeing 737 with 90 passengers developed depressurisation as it approached Nadi.