We usually do the Caribbean route on our winter cruise, but last year Larry said to me, ‘Lise, let’s try one of the European routes next, save ourselves some money on flights,’ so that’s what we did. The ship was much smaller than we’re used to, and the food was a bit samey, mostly pasta and fish (I’m more of a steak and ribs kind of person). But I’d always wanted to go to Tenerife, so I put up with it.
We were up on the Sunlight Deck playing mini golf when we saw that plane go down. The other passengers were taking advantage of the chocolate buffet, but with my IBS and Larry’s diabetes, we’d decided to give it a miss, so we were all alone up there—just me, Larry and his camera. Larry’s a real Spielberg, he films everything, especially when we’re on holiday. We always upload our holiday clips to YouTube the second we get home, and Larry’s so creative with them, he likes to add music and captions and that. Our friends love them. Larry was filming me trying to knock the ball into the last hole when I looked over the side and saw the plane in the distance. I knew right off that something was wrong with it. It was flying low, way too low, and its wings were at a weird angle, like it was about to roll all the way over or something. I screamed at Larry, and fair play to him, he was already pointing the camera in its direction. We didn’t see it crashing in the sea or anything like that—we couldn’t get to the bow fast enough to follow it—but we knew. We just knew something bad had happened to it. We told one of the crew what we’d seen and that we needed to speak to the captain, but like most of them, he didn’t speak a bloody word of English. We tried, we really did. I don’t want you to think we were heartless. But Larry knew straight off that we had something big, so we hurried back to our stateroom, and after calling Guest Services to tell them to alert the coast guard (thankfully the Serbian woman on the desk understood what we were saying), he got on the internet and contacted Sky, CNN and the Daily Mail via Skype. Status Cruises charge an arm and a leg for wifi, but Larry didn’t care. It took him ages to get through, and only Sky bothered to call us back immediately. That’s why we went with them.
It was only when we docked in Tenerife that we found out about the other three crashes. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. So, so tragic. And the next thing we knew, our film was all over the news, repeated every twenty minutes. You can hear my voice in the background saying, ‘oh my God’ over and over again. Your voice never sounds like you think it does, does it? Larry says I shouldn’t let on how much we were paid for the footage, but ... well all I’ll say is that for the next few years we’ll be able to take a better class of cruise, that’s for sure.
It was the noise that got my attention first. The scream of those engines. Won’t tell you my exact location as I was on Federal land and the authorities can get pissy if they catch you there, but it was a good gator spot—the skins bring in good money if you know where to sell—so I figured it was worth the risk.
I thought at first it might be one of those spotter planes the Fish and Wildlife use for spying, and I was readying to steer my skiff to the edge of the swamp to wait it out till they was gone. I wasn’t looking forward to hunkering down in the sawgrass—that shit can cut like knives—but in seconds I got to thinking that it sounded too big to be a government plane. The engines were howling like something wild, and it sounded like it was getting lower and lower. Then came the moment I realised it was coming all the way down. I finally caught sight of it, a flash of its underbelly, big and white, looked like it filled the sky, just before it must’ve hit the swamp. I heard an almighty whoomf—can’t describe it better than that—and I got my engine going. By the time I got near, there wasn’t nothing to see. Just slow ripples on the surface. For a long while I thought maybe my eyes were playing tricks, maybe there wasn’t a plane after all, but then I heard voices—couple of fishermen who’d also seen the aircraft go down. I got out of there fast. Didn’t see the point of calling the authorities. There wasn’t nothing I could do, any more than you can save a moth that flies into a puddle of oil. I knew they’d have radar and black boxes and others ways to track it, and I shouldn’t have been out there, anyways, not in an area the tree-huggers call ‘protected’. Well, there wasn’t nothing protecting the plane or the people on it. And I swear to you, there wasn’t a chance in hell anyone could’ve survived that, no matter what they say.
I was in the laundry room doing the ironing when I first heard about it. I was working hard to finish in time so that I could catch my taxi at four, so I was already stressed—the boss is very fussy and liked everything, even his socks, to be ironed.The madam ran into the kitchen and I could see by her expression that there was a problem. She usually only wore that face when one of her cats had brought in a rodent and she needed me to clean it up. ‘Angela,’ she said. ‘I’ve just heard on Cape Talk, something’s happened in Khayelitsha. Isn’t that where you live?’
I said yes, and asked her what it was—I assumed it must be another shack fire or trouble from a strike. She told me that from what she could gather, a plane had crashed. Together we hurried into the sitting room and switched on the television. It was all over the news and at first it was difficult for me to understand what I was seeing. Most of the clips just showed people running and screaming, balloons of black smoke billowing around them. But then I heard the words that chilled my heart.The reporter, a young white woman with frightened eyes, said that a church near Sector Five had been completely destroyed when the plane hit the ground.
My daughter Susan’s crèche was in a church in that area.
Of course, my first thought was that I must contact Busi, my sister, but I was out of airtime. The madam let me use her cellphone, but there was no answer; it went straight to voicemail. I was starting to feel sick, even light-headed. Busi always answers her phone. Always.
‘Madam,’ I said, ‘I have to leave. I have to get home.’ I was praying that Busi had decided to collect Susan, my daughter, from crèche early. It was Busi’s day off from the factory, and sometimes she did this so that they could spend the afternoon together.When I left at five that morning to catch the taxi to the Northern suburbs, Busi was still fast asleep, Susan by her side. I tried to keep that image—Busi and Susan safe together—in my mind.That’s what I concentrated on. I only started to pray later on.
Hirono. Things are getting bad here. The cabin crew are calm. No one is panicking. I know I’m going to die and I want to tell you that—oh things are falling they’re falling everywhere and I must…Don’t look in my office cupboard. Please, Hirono, I’m begging you. There are other things you can do. I can only hope that
Koushan Oda. Japanese citizen. Age 37.
There is smoke that doesn’t feel like smoke. The old woman next to me is crying silently and praying and I wish I was sitting here next to you. There are children on this flight. Um…uh…Take care of my parents. There should be enough money. Call Motobuchi-san, he’ll know what to do about the insurance. The captain is doing everything he can, I have to trust in him. I can sense by his voice that he is a good man. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Sho Mimura. Japanese citizen. Age 49.
I must think I must think I must think. How it happened…okay, a bright light came into the cabin. A bang. No, more than one.Was the light before the bang? I don’t know.The woman at the window, the big gaijin [foreigner] is wailing it hurts my ears and I need to get my things in case we…I’m recording this so that you know what will happen. There is no panic, although I feel as if there should be. For the longest time I wanted to die, and now that it’s coming I realise that I was wrong to wish this, that my time was coming too soon. I’m scared and I don’t know who will hear this. If you can pass this message onto my father tell him that
Keita Eto. Japanese citizen. Age 42.
Shinji? Please answer! Shinji!
There was a light, bright and then…and then.
The plane is going down, it’s crashing it’s going down and the captain is saying that we have to be calm. I don’t know why this is happening!
All I ask…take care of the children, Shinji. Tell them that I love them and
Noriko Kanai. Japanese citizen. Age 28.
I know that the Lord Jesus Christ will take me into his arms and that this is his plan for me. But oh, how I wish I could see you once more. I love you, Su-jin, and I never told you. I hope that you hear this; somehow I hope it gets back to you. I wanted us to be together one day, but you are so far away now. It’s happening
Seojin Lee. South Korean citizen. Age 37.
They’re here. I’m…don’t let Snookie eat chocolate, it’s poison for dogs, she’ll beg you, the boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many…They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Bye Joanie I love the bag bye Joanie, Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to
Pamela May Donald. American citizen. Age 51.