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PC121 tragedy: Part 3 - The trauma lives on

Siteri Sauvakacolo
Sunday, August 20, 2017

ANYONE who hears the name Delailasakau will be connected right away to the PC 121 crash.

This is true and has been the case for the past 18 years ever since the historic crash that claimed the lives of 17 passengers and crew members of the Air Fiji PC 121 horrific crash.

Delailasakau is a remote village in the Waidina district which lies on the border of the Naitasiri and Namosi hills and is home to about 700 people.

It is surrounded by the Mataicicia Hill, probably one of the highest on Viti Levu and a rocky mountainous hill that any Suva-Nadi flight would not miss on a normal flight route.

Villagers have always gone about doing their own things and the sound of aeroplane surpassing their rooftop every morning is a norm to them.

Eighteen years ago, however, they were met with the most horrific tragedy of their lives.

It was a plane crash that no one could explain.

I visited the village a fortnight ago and villagers still have fresh memories of what happened more than a decade ago.

Ratu Mikaele Seruitukana explained that on the morning of July 24, 1999, they were awoken by a loud crash.

It was a rare site as well for the villagers when the mist lifted two hours after the loud crash as they could see birds flying everywhere and even the wild pigs which would usually took the men of the village more than eight hours to hunt in the wild forest, running around the village looking for sound comfort.

The crash of the PC 121 has always been the story of the villagers of Delailasakau. Remains of plane parts are being used by villagers on their houses and what remains on Mataicicia Hill was just a wing and a tyre.

But behind the Mataicicia Hill are hidden treasures as explained by Ratu Mikaele, the village headman.

"At first Delailasakau was just an ordinary village hidden in upper Waidina in the province of Naitasiri.

"After the crash, people get known. We don't have any well-known people, just one colonel, Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini.

"Eighteen years after the crash, there were promises made by the Government and diplomatic corps and they have died down and just forgotten."

Our conversation tends to grow deeper when he explained that the crash itself had brought out the treasures hidden on their Mataicicia Hill.

Behind Mataicicia, Ratu Mikaele explained, is the Sovi Basin, Fiji's largest remaining undisturbed lowland forest, providing fresh water to tens of thousands of people.

The Sovi Basin belongs to the people of Delailasakau, Nadakuni and a mataqali in NaivucinI, Naitasiri.

A Sovi Basin Trust Fund has been set up, according to and is a sustainable financing mechanism that will meet all obligations and activities under the lease, such as ensuring land rents to communities, compensating communities for foregone timber royalties, providing alternative economic opportunities and facilitating a co-management plan for the protected area.

"Mataicicia brought this into the limelight. Across from Mataicicia is one of the largest open cut mining areas in the South Pacific.

"The copper mining, which is yet to happen, was also made known through this Mataicicia tragedy.

"All in all, while we may say that PC 121 was a huge loss for many Fijians who lost their loved ones, it was also a blessing in disguise for us because we were able to uncover the treasures behind this hill."

Some sons and daughters of Delailasakau have now earned decent jobs and the story of PC 121 will always be a part of their life.

It will always remain in them forever. It is a memory that shall not fade away from them as they could always reminisce their young days where they have had police and other security personnel being part of their village for about two weeks as part of the search party for the 17 victims who lost their lives in the tragic crash.

The trauma the men of the village experienced was always something they shared with others.

And for these men, some have passed on, it was a huge relief having to share what they went through because it was their way of coping with the tragedy and trauma.

However, this major tragedy which made headlines in the local and international media 18 years ago has also changed the villagers' spiritually.

"Things happen for a reason and they have life-lessons as well," Ratu Mikaele said.

"For us, we have changed the way we serve God and to us it is very important that we tell our young ones that living a healthy, spiritual life is always an important part of us.

"We have always asked God to bless us and to bless our surroundings so that no other tragedy like the PC 121 crash would ever happen on our soil again."

While the PC 121 crash may have brought out the hidden treasures for these villagers, it has also served them a life-lesson that life was always about love, care and living a clean spiritual life.

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