Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Chapter 10—History of Bario’s Communications and Connectivity
*Challenging Land Route

*Post War air strips
*First Mission pilot

*First airline in Borneo

*The Second Bario airport

*Re-construction of the Bario Airport

*Mission to fly fuel to Bario secondary school

*The tragic Long Seridan Kelabit air crash

*Sad demise of two Kelabit Highlanders
*Marcus Raja—a man called “A Thousand Aristocrats”
*First Kelabit with a commercial pilots license

Appendix 20—Evangelism through aircraft—the Indonesian Story

BOX Story-Report on the Construction of the New Aerodrome at Bario

@Chronology 5--Air Connectivity in the Kelabit highlands (1951-2013)

Challenging Land Route
Before the Second World War, travel into the Central Highlands of Borneo was by foot. After R.S. Douglas’s epic journey to the Kelabit highlands in 1908, other Europeans such as the Sarawak curators Dr Eric Mjoberg and Edward Banks, and even the “Rajah Muda” Anthony Brooke, had taken the land route to get to Bario and its surrounding villages.

The most used trail during the Brooke Era was month-long journey entailed a trek across virgin forests before crossing over the 5,000ft Tamabu Range. Tom Harrisson in “World Within” (1959) said that this route was a well trodden one because there was no way of getting into Bario or any other longhouse within the Kelabit Highlands without climbing the Tamabu Range which is “at least as high as one thousand Kelabits standing upon each other’s heads”.

The Second Route which used by the local natives was equally difficult, using the Northern Gateway through Ba Kelalan, a trek around the shoulders of the 7,950ft Gunung Murud high mountain complex where a great Kelabit aristocrat had been memorialised with the building of a “Kawang”—the cutting of a large clearing on the mountain top.

But this passage was so difficult and as Harrisson concluded, if a seasoned Kelabit could not carry a dragon jar over Gunung Murud, then it would be practically impossible for  traders to use this arduous footpath.

The Third Route was through the North East—a journey across the Kelabit Highland’s eastern spinal range and into the Kerayan Plateau into Indonesia. Harrisson joked that in the days of inter-tribal wars, it would have taken “a little more than borak courage” to venture into the Dutch Indonesian heartland occupied by the Kelabit’s arch-enemies—the Kalimantan Muruts.

It was only after the second world war that the Australian missionary Hudson Southwell used this pathway—a two-week trek from Lawas to Ba Kelalan and thence into Indonesia before entering into the Kelabit Highlands via Pa Trap (Pa Lungan).

Since the first Europeans visited Bario, a new trail had been discovered and developed in the South. It started with a river journey from Marudi to Lio Mato, the last longhouse on the Baram river--Lio Mato—meaning “A Hundred Islands” in the Kenyah language—which is in the upper reaches of the Baram, turns into a series of treacherous rapids, gorges and steep gradients which is inaccessible by boat. As such, travelers had to trek their way into the Southern region of the Kelabit Highlands to get to Bario.

Post War airstrips
It was Tom Harrisson who initiated air travel into the Central Highlands with the outlandish but innovative idea of opening of the first Bamboo Airstrip at Belawit in May 1945.

Hudson Southwell also built small grass air strips in some of the most inaccessible regions of the Kelabit Highlands and its periphery. This was to enable his missionaries to reach the remote communities in the shortest period of time and lessen the burden of having to carry all the equipment and bibles to their destination.

Southwell built BEM’s first airstrip in Lawas 1947 and the first flight flew in the following year. The BEM then built more airstrips at Long Semadoh, Long Sukang and Ba Kelalan in Lawas and Sabah. The Limbang airport which was first established in 1960 was expanded in 1965.

First missionary pilot
In 1948, the BEM had two new missionaries--Ray Cunningham and a former Royal Australian Air force (RAAF) pilot Bruce Morton who used a newly-acquired light two-seated Aeronca (with a 65 horsepower motor) to fly to into the remote interior.

Bruce Morton (named “Panai” by the locals) first flew to Ba Kelalan in 1950. The plane carried missionaries and administrative officials, goods to and from the coast, as well as the very who needed urgent medical care.

His trips enabled other speakers and teachers for the Deacons School and the annual Easter Convention, to avoid having to walk all the way to the highlands from Lawas.

Bario’s first airstrip enabled missionaries to visit the Kelabits more often and among the first to fly in was the wife of Alan Belcher who conducted the first Deacons School, at Pa’ Main in 1955.

Tom Harrisson who had become Curator of the Sarawak Museum by then followed suit and built the first airstrip in Bario in 1951 on a small soggy patch of land. The site was also not suitable due to a one-way approach with a hill on the one possible approach and adjacent mountains.

After a few trips, the air strip was considered too dangerous and closed down. A year later, the Bario air strip was taken over by the BEM who improved the airstrip to accommodate light Tri-Pacer aircraft (known as "Kapal Misin"—mission aircraft) for Missionary work.
However, in 1953, the DCA took over the BEM airstrip at Bario and declared it unsuitable and started building a new airfield. Between 1953 until 1959, the former Bario airstrip was still used by the BEM  for their small aircraft to enable them to bring in more speakers and teachers and bring in Christian literature. The missionary planes also served as a “Flying Doctor” service to cater for the seriously sick who could be flown down to the hospitals on the coast.

After Bario, the BEM built 10 more airstrips in the Kelabit Highlands and its periphery at Long Seridan(1962), Long Lellang (1963), Long Banga (1963),  Pa Tik (1963, Ramudu (1970), Long Lamai Penan settlement (1972), Pa’ Umor (1973), Long Peluan (1974), Pa’ Dalih (1975), Long Dano (1976) and Pa’ Lungan (1976). All but Long Seridan, Long Lellang and Long Banga airports, have closed down since. Apart from the BEM aircraft, chartered S.T.O.L. aircraft could also land in these airfields

@BOX story—Rural airstrips built by the BEM in Bario and its Kelabit periphery (1953-1976)—Provided by Robert Lian-Saging

       Bario: First built in 1953 for mission use. Second airfield built in 1960 extended in 1969 to a dimension 2, 600’ x 120’. Used for commercial flights including Malaysian Air Line System, Norman Islander aircraft. Regular scheduled services.

       Long Seridan: Built in 1962 for mission use on gotong-royong basis. Dimension 1,500’ x 100’. Maintained by D.C.A since 1971, used for commercial flights, including MAS with regular scheduled services.

       Long Banga: Build in 1963 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Maintained by Baram District Office, Marudi. Dimension 1,500’ x 100’.

       Long Lellang: Built in 1963 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1,000’ x 80’.

       Pa Tik: Built 1963 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 900’ x 90’.

       Ramudu: Built in 1970 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1,200’ x 90’.

       Long Lawai: Built in 1972 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 800’ x 70’.

       Pa Umor: Built in 1973 on ‘gotong-royong ‘basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1,000’ x 70’.

       Long Peluan: Built 1974 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1,080’ x 100’.

       Pa Dalih: Built in 1975 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1,000’ x 120’.

       Long Dano: Built 1975-1967 on ‘gotong-royong’ basis for mission aircraft use. Dimension 1.650’ x 100’.

       Pa Lungan: Under construction for mission aircraft use in 1975. Expected Dimension 1,200’ x 70’. Completed in 1976 but closed down shortly after.


First airline in Borneo
In the meantime the Borneo aviation industry was growing with first private airlines company in 1947, set up by the Straits Steamship Company Limited together with the government of British North Borneo(Sabah).It was called Sabah Airways Limited.
Ten years later in 1957, the “Borneo Airways Limited” was officially launched, serving British Borneo (Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei) and in 1962 took over Sabah Air. which was absorbed into the company.
Between 1957-1965, Borneo Airways Limited covered nine destinations in Sarawak--Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri, Limbang, Simanggang (present-day Sri Aman Division), Marudi, Mukah and Long Akah (Baram). In 1965 Borneo Airways Limited’s assets was absorbed by Malaysian Airways (later known as Malaysia-Singapore Airlines—MSA). *1

By the late 1950s, there was greater development in rural air travel with the opening of the Marudi airstrip on April 28, 1959. Two months later on June 14 and 15 Sarawak’s Governor Sir Anthony Abell landed at Bario on the inaugural Borneo Airways commercial into the Kelabit Highlands. With his small entourage, the aircraft made a “brave, difficult and successful landing piloted Captain Robertson.

The Sarawak Tribune (July 1, 1959) reported "The airstrip at Bareo is very small and the surface is not good enough to be used after heavy rain. It was therefore very fortunate that the Governor was able to land there at all and thanks are due to the very skilful piloting by Captain T.M. Robertson, Managing Pilot of Borneo Airways Limited."

On landing, the aircraft came to a halt in the soggy airfield as Penghulu Lawai Besara’ and a large crowd of Kelabits watched in anticipation. After disembarking, the Governor and his entourage were given a traditional welcome.

As the Governor left for the longhouse, the strongest Kelabits helped to pull the aircraft out of the mud as its tyres were stuck. During the official function that night, Penghulu Lawai suggested that the government move to the original site of airstrip.

Sagau Batu Bala in “Kelabits’ Story—The Great Transition” said: “Firstly he (the Penghulu) wanted the Colonial Government to take over the private airfield in Lembaa’ which was built for the Borneo Evangelical Mission’s single propeller aircraft to land and to send its missionaries and pastors to minister the various churches in Kelabit Highlands.

“Because the airfield was too near the mountains--the plane could only land and take off from the South end of the airfield--Penghulu Lawai Besara' offered the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) land where his father Balang Lembaa’ made a human sacrifice many years back.”

During the visit, Governor Sir Anthony Abell visited the site of the original airfield and toured the area. He also brought along 300 Tilapia fish from the pond at the Astana in Kuching, a new breed of fish which was introduced to the community.

To honour the Governor, the Kelabit named the fish Luang Tuni (Tony's fish) while many Kelabit families including Penghulu Ngimat Ayu, gave the name "Abell" to their sons to commemorate the visit. The name Luang Tuni was suggested by Pasang Saging and Dom Mattu (the father of Dr Roland Dom Mattu, the first Kelabit doctor and Gyneacologist)

To build the new airport, the tributaries at the confluence of the Merariu and Arur Sebayah rivers, had to be diverted to make way for the new airport’s runway.

While work on the new air field was progressing, there was another mishap at the old airstrip. Penghulu Lawai was in a RAF Single Pioneer which was taking off, when it flipped over after its tail tyres caught the bamboo fencing at the south end of the airstrip. Badly shaken but unhurt, the old Penghulu shrugged off the incident and walked back to his longhouse.

The Second Bario Government Air Field
In January 1960, work on the second Bario government air field started with the authorities providing the funds and technical assistance while Kelabit labourers were at the rate of $2 per day per person.

The Sarawak Gazette, Vol. IXXXVII, May, 1961, stated that the Kelabits engaged in the construction which took ten months--all the work was done by hand, the only ‘equipment’ being some wheel barrows and baskets and a couple of vibrating roller engines.

The construction of the airport which was supervised by Sarawak's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director John Seal and District Officer M. McSporan. Several hundred Kelabits and Kenyahs from East Kalimantan were employed for the job.

Lian-Saging was six when he witnessed the development of the airstrip.” I was in primary 1. The people of "Bario Lembaa" (Bario) were able to provide enough rice for the workers because they--the only wet padi cultivators in the Kelabit highlands--had enough surplus rice which they had stored a year earlier.

"The airstrip was carved out of the jungle using "parang, kapak, cangkul, sekop" (machete, axe, hoe and shovel).The initial movement of the top layer of the runway site. It was done manually using hand-carry ratan baskets, hand-made wheel barrows (made from wheels, air-dropped by military aircraft from Singapore). The Daily salary was $3 per head for men and $2 for women.

“The labour force was involved in digging out stumps, removing top soil and filling the proposed runway with "real earth", diverting a river (Pa Marariu?) and packing in the laterite top-soil on the runway with wooden hand-held compactors.
Following that planting denuded areas with grass (cow grass?) buffalo grazing land within the region,” he said.

 Lian-Saging remembers that one day his father brought a loaf of bread and a can of "kaya" (egg jam) flown in all the way from Marudi for them to eat. "And what a treat it was!," he added

On April 10, 1961 Governor Sir Alexander Waddell officially opened the new Bario airport which had an air traffic control terminal, a new aircraft parking area and new laterite runway, the fist of its kind in the interior, measuring 1,800 x 120ft.

After the new Bario airstrip which provided weekly commercial flights to Bario using Twin Pioneer service.

@Box Story—Report on the Construction of the new Aerodrome

BOX story: - Report on the Construction of the New Aerodrome at Bario

Bario, which is on a plateau 3,500 feet above the mean sea level, is the centre of the Northern Kelabit country near the source of the Baram River in the 4th Division, and is ten miles from the border of Indonesian Borneo. Bario is not accessible by river travel, and to reach there by foot, takes 12 days from Lawas on the North East coast of Sarawak, or 8 days walking from the last navigable point on the Baram River.

The area is agriculturally fertile, but is exceptionally isolated and can only be developed through provision of improved communications and this in practice means air communications. It is expected that produce from Bario can be eventually be flown to the coast where a good consumer market exists. A reliable airfield will also considerably facilitate ease of access for Government officers who will then be able, to play a much greater part in the development of the area.

A small landing ground was constructed at Bario by the Curator of the Sarawak Museum in 1951, but the site is not suitable due to poor drainage, a one-way approach, a hill on the one possible approach and adjacent mountains. It has been used a few times, and it is necessary for a senior Civil Aviation officer to be on the ground to assess the service-ability of the airfield for aircraft movements.

The Public Works and Civil Aviation Departments recently made a survey for a new airfield site at Bario, and have found a suitable site with two-way approaches. The airfield would have to be constructed on a "hand-built" basis, utilising buffaloes for pulling sledges carrying earth fill. The local peoples are intensely keen on air communications, and have offered to work on the airfield for as little as $2 a day. A successful flight to prove the approaches of the new site has been made.

It is hoped to be able to commence at least a monthly service to Bario when the new airfield is in service. Initially it may be necessary to subsidise the service from Sarawak funds. The estimated cost of constructing this new airfield at Bario is $52,000. This is only an approximate estimate made by the Public Works Department. They have not been able to give a detailed estimate because it has not been possible to execute a detailed survey and design of the airfield, but the site has been inspected by an engineer of the Public Works Department. The dimensions of the airstrip will be 1800 feet by 120 feet and it will have a grass surface. It has been proposed that the longitudinal overall slope is not to exceed (?) and the transverse slop is to be 1 (?). The approach slope will be cleared to provide 1 in 30.

A Colonial Development and Welfare grant of 85% of the total cost of the airfield(?) is not sought.

A Financial Survey is attached to an Appendix.

Colonial Office
Great Smith Street,
London, S.W.1

An “Angel” from Heaven
Sometime in early 1969 an interesting incident took place when a young Bidayuh pilot trainee from the DCA Anthony Juan, flew a Piper Cherokee from Bario to Long Seridan on a “special mission”.

In an interview Anthony, the first Bidayuh pilot who is from the village of Stenggang, Bau, said that a year after he was employed, he was selected by former DCA Director John Edward Seal (a former Semut operative) to be sent for the three-month pilot training course in Kota Kinabalu.

He said: “ During my cross-country training stint (where pilot trainees had to fly various locations in Borneo) I flew from Labuan to Bario with our chief flying instructor O.P. Saldana. After loading our small four-seater aircraft's back seats with pineapples, nectarine oranges, Bario rice and other products, we were approached by the assistant air traffic controller Gerrish Balang

“He told us that the wife of Henry Jala, the teacher at Long Seridan, asked if she could get a lift to her husband's place. Apparently the couple had not met for a long time and I felt sorry for the lady. Since Long Lellang was along our route far on our way back to Miri, I made space for her and off we went.

"After 20 minutes in the air we reached the location and circled twice. The locals then started a small fire and we could see the direction of the smoke as we came in to land. However as I came in to land we discovered to my horror that the airstrip was covered with tall lallang grass. So the experienced Saldana, a former pilot with the Indian army, took over control of the plane. It was a bumpy ride but we landed safely.

“I still remember Henry running down the hill with a group of villagers. They must have thought it was the BEM missionaries making one of their occasional visits to Long Seridan because none of the government aircraft had landed at the air strip.

“Then his wife got out of the aircraft and walked towards the group. From a distance, he saw her and could not believe his eyes, he was smiling all the way. She ran towards him and both of them hugged joyfully because they had not seen her for almost a year. I can imagine, to Henry, she must have been like an angel from heaven.”

On meeting the Kelabit headman, the two pilots were invited to stay the night. But Saldana had a tight schedule and they could not stay longer. Anthony added:“One of the reason why we did not stay back as because it was a Saturday and there was also work to do in Miri. Apart from that we saw a herd restless water buffaloes roaming around the lallang strip. We feared that if the plane was not protected at night, they could charge at it and cause damage. So we decided to leave within the hour of landing.”

Now the problem was taking off because the aircraft had to push through the three-feet tall Lallang .on the narrow 1,000ft long grass strip which had only one clear approach and with a mountain at the other end. “So all the villagers came out and in a massive exercise used empty oil drums and filled it with sand (a practice they were taught by the BEM missionaries who occasionally flew into Long Seridan) and rolled the air field until all the long grass was flattened. It was a noisy and bumpy take-off as Saldana went full throttle, but we returned to Miri safely".

Anthony, 66, said that he was later told by Henry that he had not seen his wife for almost a year and thanked him for bringing his “angel” to Long Seridan. His wife, Sina Midang, was stationed in Bario (three of Henry’s children, one of them Dato Sri Idris Jalla, later attended university) to attend secondary school. In those days Long Seridan only had basic primary education. It was also isolated because it did not have any air traffic control communications.

“Henry told me that he practically lived off the goodwill of the village folk who provided him food and other wants because he did not receive his monthly salary. The money was sent to the District Office in Marudi to enable his wife to use for the family,” added Anthony.

In 1971,  the Long Seridan airstrip was upgraded in stages whereby a bituminised runway and DCA tower were established. Today (2013) MASwings Rural Air Service (RAS) provides twice-weekly flights to Long Seridan. In 1963 Malayan Airways was renamed Malaysian Airways after Malaysia gained independence. MAS also took over Borneo Airways. Three years later in 1966, MAS changed its name to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) but after Singapore withdrew from Malaysia and two separate entities were formed--Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. In 1967 the airline's fleet and routes were expanded. It added Boeing 707s and later Boeing 737s to the fleet soon afterwards. In 1972 MSA split into two separate entities and Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airline System (MAS) were born.

In the 1970s, the BEM handed three more rural airstrips to the DCA --Long Seridan, Long Lellang and Long Banga. Currently MASwings has daily flights to Bario while the remaining villages have one or two weekly flights.

Reconstruction  of Bario airport
Bario airstrip was in poor condition during the Confrontation as the British troops used the airfield regularly. However in 1967, a year after a peace agreement was signed between Malaysian and Indonesia, the Malaysian Army Engineers began repair work on the Bario airstrip.

Two years later in 1969 the DCA extended the Bario airport to 2,600ft. With its completion, MAS's Norman Islanders was able to schedule four flights every week to Bario from Miri--via Marudi, Long Seridan and Lawas.

Captain Harry Harries recalls that the local community was short of commodities and helped bring in essentials through a Kelabit lady named Bulan Aran after flying into Bario. He said: “I was one of the first to fly into Bario with a BN2 when the new rural Air Services commenced on Jan 1, 1969. Before long Bulan and I became good friends as she showered me with pineapples and oranges in exchange for goods I fetched up from Miri and Marudi.

“Believe it or not, cement was like gold dust to the Kelabits then and I broke just about every rule in loading the odd bag on top of our heavy load, just for Bulan. We soon had a thriving barter trade between us exchanging each others products. After about five years on the BN2's I transferred to the Fokker Friendships and never saw her again. I was sad to hear of her demise years later.”

Bario airport continued to develop gradually and in 1987, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, announced the plan to build a new airstrip during his visit to Bario. However, work only commenced on the construction of the new airport in 1994.

During this time several units of tractors and bulldozers was brought into Bario for earth moving and civil works. A quarry was also opened to provide stone for the runway, a stone crusher was built at the site to provide appropriate sized gravel and aggregates. Finer aggregates, premix and bitumen, airlifted from Marudi, was used for the runway surfacing.

In 1983 in neighbouring Lawas, Malaysia Airlines Twin Otters was providing Rural Air Service to Long Semado, Long Sukang and Ba Kelalan in 1983. The airstrips at Long Semado and Long Sukang were subsequently closed down following the construction of a road to Ba Kelalan which passed by their villages.

Mission to fly fuel to Bario Secondary School
Sometime in 2005, the Bario secondary school ran out of fuel for its generators and made and emergency call to Captain Vaughan Paternoster, a retired MAS pilot. Paternoster who joined MAS in 1973 and retired in 2001, said that a friend Stanley Tiong, had been asked whether the Australian pilot could assist them.

Vaughn said: “The school there ran out of oil for its generator, the Hornbill Skyvan was out of commission and MAS could not carry flammable cargo, a man in the Public Works Department, who knew my friend Stanley Tiong, asked if he could use his Pelican (home-built) aircraft to get the oil to the school. There were 6 x 44 gallon drums of it, which I flew to Bario in around eight to nine trips over three days. The oil was pumped into plastic 'jerry cans' and tied into the small cabin of the Pelican.

“After doing this, the population of Bario was asking us to continue flights to bring petrol, diesel, kerosene, gas cylinders etc, etc.  At the time, I think these items were being hand-carried across the range from Ba Kelalan.  We came close to getting an aircraft to do the job (the Pelican was far from suitable), however, in the end DCA refused to give their permission for the operation.”

On October 1, 2007, MASwings, Malaysia 's first commuter airline was officially launched. It catered to the air travel needs of Sarawak and Sabah's travelling population by providing affordable fares, convenient schedule and connections within the two states in the Malaysian Borneo.

Being a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, MASwings takes advantage of its link with Malaysia's national carrier to provide Sabah and Sarawak with greater connectivity to the global network already serviced by Malaysia Airlines.

A month later on November 9, 2007, MASwings (through its parent company Malaysia Airlines) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the purchase of seven ATR 72-500s with options for three additional aircraft to expand its services in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. MASwings received the first aircraft in 2008, second batch of six aircraft in 2009 and the remaining three by 2010. On April 25, 2010, its last F50 (9M-MGF) was retired from service.

In 2012, MASwings first CEO Datuk Capt Mohd Nawawi Haji Awang announced the company would buy more aircraft to service the rural airports. On February 28, 2012, MASwings announced it would replace its ageing Twin Otters with newer planes, as the request had been sent to the Ministry of Transportation in 2011. Pending approval, it hoped to purchase Viking Air DHC-6 Series 400, Dornier Do 228NG (New Generation) and GECI SK-105 Skylander. They would also look at the Do 228NG and the Twin Otter Series 400. *2

The tragic Long Seridan air crash
On September 3, 1991 tragedy struck when a chartered Skyvan aircraft crashed near the Kelabit longhouse community of Long Seridan killing the pilot, co-pilot and 12 important Kelabit personalities, elders and headmen. There were only six survivors.

On that fateful day at about 1.45 pm Myanmar pilot Capt Khin Zaw and his co-pilot former police deputy superintendant Mohd Jamari, 44, left Bario airfield for Marudi with 18 leaders representing 11 longhouses and three political representatives from the Kelabit highlands. Among them were seven Kelabit headmen, seven assistant headmen, political representatives and the Penghulu's eldest son Tony Ngimat. Soon after their departure from the Bario grass-trip, the plane crashed in forested timber country at Kuala Magoh near Long Seridan, not far from the Limbang-Baram border.

Two hours after the crash, the first batch of four "miracle" survivors - Maran Balang, 67, Galih Balang, 65, Bala Tuan, 70, and Jaman Ribuh, 34 - were picked up by a RMAF Nuri helicopter and rushed to the Miri general hospital. Two others who were critically injured and trapped in the wreckage - John Tarawe, 27, and Lutu Ayu, 63 - were whisked off to the hospital later that evening. Both survived after being hospitalised between six weeks to two months.

In an interview with the NST in Bario (NST, July 2, 1995) two of the six survivors, John Tarawe and Jaman Ribuh, neighbours at Padang Pasir in the Bario highlands, spoke about the tragic air crash.

John said the crash occurred on the eve of the announcement of the State general elections, while he was accompanying the Kelabit chiefs on the trip for the opening of the Marudi Dewan Suarah community hall.

The Padang Pasir businessman, who lost his father Tarawe Ulun in the crash, reminisced that arrangements had been made for the Kelabit folk to be ferried by a Rajawali Company Skyvan to Marudi town along the Baram river, about 35 minutes flying time away.
"Everything seemed fine after take-off. But some 20 minutes later we heard strange sounds and the plane started to vibrate. Tony Ngimat, the Penghulu's son who was seated at the front, noticed that the right engine had stopped functioning. He stood up and facing the crowd, urged us to raise our hands to pray. Then the second engine stopped and I heard the sound of the plane brushing the treetops as it went down. I realised the plane was plunging down a valley," said John who was strapped in one of the back seats.

John's close friend, Jaman, who was also sitting at the back portion of the aircraft, continued: "As the plane went down I started to pray. This was my first prayer after many years. "There was a loud bang. Maybe it was the sound of wings breaking as the plane crashed into the trees. Then I blacked out. When I awoke, I realised it was bright. The plane had been torn apart. I started laughing because I couldn't believe it had happened and that I was alive."

Dazed, Jaman, who was injured in the hip, was one of the first to crawl out of the vehicle to a timber track about 200 feet above the wreckage. Others who emerged from the wreckage were Galih Balang and Bala Tuan, who had a thigh injury. Maran Balang joined the trio later. Galih told relatives that he was unconscious and trapped in the Skyvan together with John and Lutu when a strange thing occurred. He felt a strange sensation of being lifted out of the aircraft. When he regained consciousness, he found that he was on a timber track.

All Galih Balang climbed up a ridge and found that there were other survivors. The four were later rescued by medical personnel led by Dr Rahman Gul and Medical Assistant Henry Pengiran, a Lun Bawang based in Marudi.

A former "pub" operator-cum contractor, John Tarawe (now a Councilor) continued: "When I woke up about two hours after the crash, I thought I was dreaming. Bodies were strewn all over and I was trapped under a seat with a few bodies on top of my legs. I realised that my father, who was slumped ahead of me, was dead. I felt pain all over my body as though it had been pierced by branches. I was thirsty and tried to reach out for a water cannot far away but was unable to reach it.

"I then heard soft groaning and Lutu, who was seated next to me, called out for help. I told him that I could not move because I could have broken my back."

It was then just after 2 pm. While John and Lutu lay trapped, GALIH BALANG returned to the aircraft at about 3 pm and found the two alive. He was unable to help them except to remove some of the bodies which were piled on Lutu. But while doing so, one of the victims, Litah Bala, slumped over, causing his face to be in a position where he was directly facing John.

"This incident has been the cause of nightmares for me since the accident," John added. "I was unable to move and faced Litah for at least three  hours. I wanted to close my eyes because I couldn't believe this was happening. But I was afraid that if I fell asleep I would just slip away and die. So I was forced to face Litah for what appeared like ages until we were rescued."

At about 6.30 p.m. a Bell helicopter with a rescue team comprising Dr Rahman Gul, the medical officer in charge of the Marudi Hospital and Medical Assistant (MA) Henry Pengiran arrived at the scene of the crash.

Dr Gul who has since opened a private practice in Ipoh, Perak, attended to the victims. Galih Balang and Jaman who had climbed a ridge and were now resting on a timber track above the site of the crash.

He went down the slope to search for survivors. In the aircraft they found John and Lutu who were trapped in their seats. Henry Pengiran, a Lun Bawang from Lawas, said in an interview that they prepared a special stretcher for John Tarawe as he may have been suffering from serious spinal injuries.

Later that evening Kelabit Inspector Wagner Lisa, now the officer in charge of Daro police station, flew in with other members of the security forces to keep watch over the wreckage.

After six weeks in hospital, Lutu, who suffered eight fractured ribs and a fractured jaw, was discharged while John who suffered multiple fractures on his spine, a fractured neck, broken ribs and brain haemorrhage, was discharged after nine weeks. It was in the hospital that John's friendship with an English teacher, Karen Hedderman, blossomed. They married almost a year later on September 7, 1992, and had a son Alexander Tadun on September 7, 1993. John retired with his family in Bario to look after his father's motel and tourism business.

John suffered "post traumatic stress disorder" and had to seek medical treatment from a psychiatrist. "I suffered nightmares and kept seeing Litah's face in my dreams. For two years I hardly slept, waking up every now and again," said John whose trauma is still not over. He has to travel by plane, as Bario is only accessible by air, for medical treatment every month and each trip is a terrifying experience for him.

"Nowadays, when I am in a plane or car, I always ask to sit in front. When driving, I sometimes have this falling sensation and hear the sounds of the plane brushing through the trees and feel as though the oncoming traffic is smashing into me."

During the initial years of the incident John was supported by his wife Karen Hadderman and raising his son Tadun became his top priority.

As for businessman Jaman, the tragedy has changed his life for the better. The father of three named his second son Gabriel, whom his wife was expecting at the time of the accident, after the Bible's guardian angel. "Before the crash John and I lived in the fast lane. I drank and smoked. Now I have changed. It was my prayers that kept me alive. God has been gracious...and words cannot express how grateful I am. I realised it is a miracle I am alive." *3

On July 30, 1993 the wife of Sgt Peter Lilin, Sina Litah Ulun,58, was killed and five injured other passengers slightly injured when a Hornbill Skyways Shorts Skyvan SC-7 crashed at the Long Loyang village soccer field in the Baram.
On September 13 2008, a MASwings de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter overshot the runway while operating a flight from Miri to Ba Kelalan via Lawas. There were two pilots and all 12 passengers on board escaped unhurt.

Three years later on August 24, 2011 another MASwings Twin Otter flying from Miri to Lawas crash-landed five meters short off the river at the end of the Lawas Airport runway. The incident caused all flights to and from Lawas to be cancelled, as the airport was forced to close down. However, none of the 18 people on board the aircraft were hurt.

On November 7, 2012, a third MASwings Twin Otter landed in a ditch, while operating from Miri to Marudi. Upon touching down, it veered to the left side of the runway, tearing down the fence and ending up in a ditch in a fine weather. All 17 people on board were unscathed.

Sad demise of two “Highlanders”
In another tragic incident in the Central Highlands, prominent Kelabit businessman Datuk Dr Marcus Raja@Maran Ribuh and deputy Speaker of the State Legislative assembly Lun Bawang Assemblyman Dr Judson Sakai Tagal were among seven people who were killed after their Hornbill Skyways helicopter crashed near the foot of Gunung Murud on July 12, 2004.

Dr Judson Sakai Tagal was the assistant minister in the Chief Ministers’ department, while the victims were Padawan Municipal Council Chairman Lawrence Th'ng, Sarawak Electricity Supply Corporation (Sesco) chief executive officer Roger Wong, Sesco engineers Jason Eng and Ling Tian Ho and the pilot Captain Samsuddin Hashim. The helicopter was only found 17 days later.*4

The incident occurred six weeks after Marcus was elected President of RURUM Kelabit on May 31, 2004 in Miri the Highlander games. His oldest son Davin,23, in a 2013 interview said: “After my father 's untimely death Uncle Gerawat became President. So when my father went to Bario on that fateful 12 July 2004 trip he went as the President of the Kelabit people and not just a businessman and contractor.”

After the tragic accident lawyer Gerawat Gala took over as President of RURUM Kelabit from Marcus. Gerawat was succeeded in 2013 by Dato Isaac Lugun of Long Lellang.

Marcus Raja--A man called a "Thousand Aristocrats"
Born at Long Lellang in 1953, when Marcus was six, his parents sent him to the Bario Primary school which had recently been opened. At that time Long Lellang did not have a school.

His first "test of faith" was when his father accompanied him to Bario--a week-long journey, across the Tamabu Range for his schooling. One of his classmates Penghulu Freddy Abun from Long Lellang described Marcus as a hard-working student who was also friendly with the others.

After completing his primary six examinations in Bario, Marcus continued at the Marudi Secondary School but had to terminate his studies because his parents could not afford to support him. Davin added :" After he left school, my father went to Simanggang (now called Sri Aman) with some friends and worked in a grocer's shop as a shop assistant.

"Months later he applied for the post of technician in the Sarawak Electricity Board in Kuching. He stayed with a relative uncle Lian Labang at Siol Kandis. Later he enrolled as an adult students and attended night classes, by cycling to the Chung Hua Primary School at Nanas Road in (the year?)

"In those days before the bridge connecting Kuching to Petra Jaya was built, he would have to cycle from Siol Kandis to the jetty and then pay 20 cents to ferry his bicycle across the river. From there he would have to cycle to Nanas roads which was about a mile away from the Pangkalan Batu jetty." (the bridge across Jalan Satok was only built in 1975)."

After completing Higher School Certificate (HSC), Marcus joined the University Sains Malaysia (USM) under its "distance student" programme and obtained a BA in Social Science. He then took up the post of college manager at University Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) in Bintulu. Between then until the late 1990s, Marcus had three jobs before going into business.

Canada-based Davin who is now pursuing his masters degree added: "I could not believe it when my mother told me that Dad was in a helicopter that went missing. At first we were hopeful that he could have landed somewhere in the jungle for some reason or others. But as the days went by it was the worst scenario that we could ever imagine. I was  only 14 and my world had crumbled.

Later the Marcus family migrated to Canada and took up residence at Vancouver? Davin said:"Dad's example inspired all of us to seriously pursue an education, something which most Kelabits of his era seemed unreachable.. Even in the most difficult circumstances, my father was able to achieve what seemed impossible. He still lives in our hearts."

First Kelabit with a commercial pilot’s license
If anyone can claim to be the first Kelabit pilot it is Henry Lian Aran who received his flying license (on a Piper Cherokee) in Ohio USA in 1967. But, after graduating he returned to Sarawak and did not use his pilots’ licence.
Later Andrew Lian, the son of Balang Riwat—one of the first three Kelabits to learn the alphabet--took up flying lessons in Canada but did not complete his course.

However, was Captain Raphael Peter who became the first Kelabit with a commercial pilot's license. Born on March 24, 1975 at Bario to Peter Iboh @Ketuan Bala @Balang Anid and Linda Da’un Captain Raphael’s great-grandfather was Penghulu Lawai Besara.
His mother Linda recalls that it was Penghulu Lawai--he changed his name twice to Paran Tejin and Edteh Na’an Raja--who was responsible for persuading Major Tom Harrisson to help the Kelabit build Bario’s first airstrip in 1950.
She said : “I remember my grand-father telling us that it would be even better if we can have our own aircraft and pilot! Some sixty years on, we have our own pilot indeed; but not our own aircraft yet.”*5
After completing his Form Five in Miri, Captain Raphael left for Australia where he obtained a PPL (Private Pilot Licence) at the Australian Flying Training School, Sydney in 1994. On his return to Malaysia, he was required to obtain his Malaysian flying licence and then joined the Sabah Flying Club as a member. In order to enhance the process of conversion, he joined the Malaysian Flying Academy in Batu Berendam, Malacca in 1996.
Despite the heavy expenses involved in taking up flying lessons, Captain Raphael finally graduated in 2003 with a Malaysian Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) an a year later secured his first job with Sarawak’s own airlines Hornbill Skyways as a Second Officer (a second officer wears two stripes) in 2005.
Two years later in 2007, he left for FAX Express—a subsidiary of Airasia-- where he was also promoted to First Officer (three stripes). It was a blessing in disguise because at that time FAX Express had just taken over Borneo’s rural air services from Malaysia Airlines. But after one year of operations, MASwings took over the rural air service and First Officer Raphael had the opportunity to fly the Twin Otter—even to Bario.
With the upgrading of MASwings aircraft, Raphael who was promoted to the rank of Captain (four stripes) in 2011 switched to flying the ATR (Avion Transport Regional 72) the new aircraft. In an interview Captain Raphael, said that he was the first Captain—there are about 30 ATR pilots--to make an instant switch from Twin Otter to ATR aircraft.
He said: “When my MASwings superiors informed me of my promotion to the rank of Captain, I was told that I would be flying the ATR myself. It was a challenge, but I able to make the instant switch instead of undergoing the six months of training with the new aircraft.”
Recently Captain Raphael’s was selected to join a MASwings delegation to France to take delivery and fly the latest addition to the ATR fleet of aircrafts which had just come out of the production line, from France to Malaysia.

ends/jr November January 28, 2015-----------------


1.In 1997 Brunei decided to revive Borneo Airways Limited (BAL) with a Malaysian-based company. But in 1999, the Royal Brunei Airlines indefinitely suspended BAL daily charters on its Malaysian destinations of Miri, Labuan and Mulu from Bandar Seri Begawan. After the suspension of the flights on August 31, 1999, BAL disappeared from the pages of Malaysian aviation history.

2.On December 18, 2012, Malaysia Airlines, ordered 36 ATR 72-600 for its subsidiaries. Sixteen its aircraft were delivered to MASwings, while the remaining 20 entered service with Firefly. For the replacement of the Twin Otter Series 300,Six brand-new Twin Otter Series 400 aircrafts will entering service some in 2013.
By then MASwings had 16 destinations in Sarawak namely; Ba Kelalan (Ba Kelalan Airport), Bario (Bario Airport), Bintulu (Bintulu Airport), Kuching (Kuching International Airport) Secondary Hub,  Lawas (Lawas Airport), Limbang (Limbang Airport),  Long Akah (Long Akah Airport), Long Banga (Long Banga Airport),  Long Lellang (Long Lellang Airport), Long Seridan (Long Seridan Airport),  Marudi (Marudi Airport),  Miri (Miri Airport) Main Hub    Mukah (Mukah Airport), Mulu (Mulu Airport),  Sibu (Sibu Airport), Sarikei (Tanjung Manis Airport)

3.Jaman passed away after a short illness in early 2014. Coincidentally, the author stayed at a “home stay” cottage at Pa Umor in June 2014, where Jaman worked. His wife and son are the care-takers of the cottage.
Galih later received the Pingat Jasa Keberanian (PJK) award from the State government for his role in assisting the survivors. The award was presented to him by his former teacher at Maderasah Melayu, Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce, the Sarawak Governor.

4.The author, Dr Judson’s private secretary Datuk Nelson Balang Rining and Henry Lian Aran had breakfast with Dr Judson in Kuching the day before the crash. Judson had planned to build mini golf course in Ba Kelalan where his family owned an apple orchard. Dr Judson’s family including his father, retired Pastor Tagal Paran and brother Mutang Tagal, a former Member of Parliament for Ba Kelalan constituency, and the author, remain close friends.

5.Captain Raphael’s maternal grand-father Anyi Pirak was the first Kelabit craftsman to become an instructor with BLTC after the War. Anyi married Kedung Paran, the only child and daughter of Penghulu Lawai who was the mother of Linda Da’un. Captain Raphael has two older brothers. His brother Ringo Peter @ Mohamad Khalid, works as a member of the ground staff of MASwings at Miri Airport while Harris Bala Peter @ Edteh Na’an Doo, is self-employed in Bario.

Chronology 7—History of air travel and Incidents in the Kelabit Highlands and its periphery
Tom Harrisson builds the first air strip in Bario but it is closed down by the DCA after it is deemed dangerous.

The first Bario air strip is taken over by the BEM.

June 14—Governor Sir Anthony Abell arrives in Bario with his entourage. Shortly after his visit an aircraft carrying Penghulu Lawai Besara crash lands while trying to take off from the soggy Bario air field

January--Work on the second Bario airport commences.

BEM starts building its first grass airstrip at Long Seridan

BEM builds three grass-surfaced STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) airstrip at Long Lellang, Pa Tik and Long Banga. Malayan Airways was renamed Malaysian Airways after Malaysia gained independence. MAS also took over Borneo Airways.

 A Twin Pioneer with Gurkha soldiers crash lands at the second Bario air strip but the occupants escape unhurt. A second air craft, a RAF helicopter, also crash lands at Pa Umor. The pilot is unhurt and the RAF later flies the wreckage to Bario where it still lies.

Malaysia Airways changed its name to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) but after Singapore withdrew from Malaysia

Malaysian Army Engineers repair the Bario airstrip which was badly damaged during Confrontation between 1963 till 1966.

The DCA extends the existing Bario airport to 2,600ft. With its completion, MAS's Norman Islanders have four flights every week to Bario from Miri via Marudi and Lawas.

BEM builds another STOL at Ramudu.

BEM builds another STOL at Pa Umor, Long Peluan (1974), Pa Dalih (1975) and Long Dano (1977)

Pa' Lungan gets its first air strip is finally completed but it is closed down shortly after.

Malaysia Airlines Twin Otters provides Rural Air Service (RAS) to Long Semado, Long Sukang and Ba Kelalan. The air strips at Long Semado and Long Sukang were subsequently closed down following the construction of a road to Ba Kelalan which passed by their villages.

Malaysia Airlines commenced operations after the airline changed its name from Malaysian Airline System (MAS).

September 3--A chartered Skyvan aircraft crashed near the Kelabit longhouse community of Long Seridan killing the pilot, co-pilot and 12 important Kelabit personalities, elders and headmen.

Another Skyvan crashed landed at the Long Loyang school field killing one person, the wife of Sgt Peter Lilin.

July 12—Kelabit businessman Datuk Dr Marcus Raja and Dr Judson Tagal, a Lun Bawang assemblyman who was deputy Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, were among six people who were killed in a helicopter crash at Gunung Murud.

Captain Vaughan Paternoster joins MAS in December of 1973. He flies to Bario to bring petrochemicals for the school which had run out of fuel for its generator.

October 1--MASwings, Malaysia 's first commuter airline is officially launched. It caters to the air travel needs of Sarawak and Sabah's travelling population by providing affordable fares, convenient schedule and connections within the two states in the Malaysian Borneo.

September 13 - A MASwings de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter overshot the runway while operating a flight from Miri to Ba Kelalan via Lawas. The two pilots and 12 passengers on board, escape unhurt.

August 24-- A MASwings Twin Otter (9M-MDM), operating as MH3516 from Miri to Lawas crash-lands five meters short off the river at the end of the Lawas Airport runway. The incident caused all flights to and from Lawas to be cancelled, as the airport was forced to close down. All of the 18 people on board the aircraft were hurt.

November 20-- During MASwings' fourth anniversary dinner in Kota Kinabalu, CEO Capt Mohd Nawawi Awang announced that the first phase of MASwings' BIMP-EAGA expansion plan will begin in early 2012, with Brunei and Kalimantan as its launching destinations.

February 1--Three MASwings planes land at Brunei International Airport for the very first time. This marked the reintroduction of the Bandar Seri Begawan-Kuching route and the addition of 2 daily flights on the Bandar Seri Begawan-Kota Kinabalu route, and also the first MASwings international destination.

 November 7---A third de Havilland Canada DHC-6 MASwings Twin Otter (9M-MDO) landed in a ditch, while operating as MH3592 from Miri to Marudi. Upon touching down at 2.33pm at the Marudi airport, it veered to the left side of the runway, tearing down the fence and ending up in a ditch in a fine weather. All 17 people on board were unscathed.

January 15--The governments of Sarawak and Sabah withdraw their initial plans to buy stakes in MASwings. MASwings has nine destinations in Northern Sarawak namely Ba Kelalan, Bario, Lawas, Limbang, Long Akah, Long Banga, Long Lellang, Long Seridan and Marudi.

MASwings has three daily flights to Bario while the remaining villages have either one or two weekly flights.

Ends/jr January 27, 2015------------------------------