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Ill-fated flight to 'paradise'

Serafina Silaitoga
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A WEEK after the Cessna 172 plane crash, trainee pilot Kalara Derederenalagi has revealed her last moments with her best friend Merelesita Lutu who died that day. She remembers her friend telling her about paradise when she referred to Savusavu.

Ms Derederenalagi disembarked in Labasa as Ms Lutu and instructor Iliesa Tawalo continued on their ill-fated course to Savusavu.

It was like any other flight they had taken before — in a jovial mood, said an emotional Ms Derederenalagi as she recounted her last moments with Ms Lutu.

"Iko na sega ni raici parataisi (You will not see paradise)," Ms Lutu said before she left for Savusavu last Monday morning.

"She asked me to come with them but I told her that one day I will see Savusavu. Then she said that I wouldn't see paradise, meaning Savusavu," Ms Derederenalagi said.

"Our flight from Nadi to Labasa was a smooth one and we didn't have any problems at all."

She described Ms Lutu and Mr Tawalo who died in a plane crash at the Delaikoro mountain range (last Monday afternoon) as humble people.

"We had so much fun. We shared a lot of jokes and just laughed all the way to Labasa after we left Nadi airport," Ms Derederenalagi said.

"When we got off at the airport in Labasa, we took a lot of pictures and she told me that she was on her way to paradise, meaning Savusavu.

"Merelesita always praised her village of Nagigi in Savusavu and always said good things about that place."

During the flight to Labasa, Ms Derederenalagi said Mr Tawalo kept reminding the girls to focus on their studies.

"Mr Tawalo was a nice guy. He was humble and his favourite word was dei tiko (be steady)," Ms Derederenalagi said.

"If we don't do well in our exams, he will always tell us dei tiko.

"When we make mistakes, he will not growl, but laugh and tell us dei tiko. We will surely miss him and his teachings."

Last Monday afternoon, Ms Derederenalagi received phone calls from friends, querying about the two.

"They told me that the two and their plane were missing and I got scared and nervous and I only prayed for them, asking God to keep them safe wherever they were," she said.

"I never knew their lives would end so soon and especially not in that way, to die in the middle of nowhere.

"It's difficult, it's difficult for me to just get on with life because Mere (Merelesita) was my best friend and we did everything together. There are six of us in the school and we always hang out together.

"When Mere cut her hair last year, I also cut my hair and we both had short hair and used to talk about our future when we will fly big aeroplanes."

The Bemana, Nadroga lass, who is still traumatised by the incident, said Mere was now flying aeroplanes in heaven.

"She is accompanied by angels and together they are flying God's planes," Ms Derederenalagi said.

"We started in the Pacific Flying School together and Mere was to get her licence by April but I need to continue because I still have to fulfil my hours of flying."

Ms Derederenalagi will leave today to join her colleagues for Merelesita's funeral tomorrow in Suva.

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