Lost photo unites fans of old airport

Man who misplaced group picture taken at Kai Tak in 1973 finds it again on Facebook, leading to a meeting with another enthusiast

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 4:17am

A group photograph taken 40 years ago at Kai Tak airport has brought together two strangers with a shared passion for Hong Kong's aviation history.

The photo was taken at Christmas in 1973, and features Hui Kei-chung, then 24, standing in front of a Cathay Pacific plane on the runway with his mother and other family members. The group had just returned from a visit to the Philippines.

Hui lost the group photograph soon after but recently stumbled across it again on Facebook, where it was used to promote an exhibition dedicated to Kai Tak airport organised by the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage.

"It's amazing how I came across the photo again after decades," said Hui, now 64.

"But my memories of the trip are still vivid."

After some help from the exhibition's organiser, Hui and collector James Ng Pong-mau, the photo's owner, met for the first time at the exhibition in Sai Ying Pun last week. The showcase features more than 100 rare historical photographs and valuable artefacts, including flight advertisements from the 1950s and handwritten plane tickets from the 1960s.

"I suspect the photo he has was originally mine," Hui joked.

Despite not being acquainted, Hui and Ng shared generously their memories of Kai Tak - the airport which served the city for 71 years before it closed in 1998, replaced by the Chek Lap Kok airport.

"Compared to European airports at that time, Kai Tak was quite backward. Passengers often had to walk on the runway after getting off the plane because there were insufficient jetways," Hui said.

"It was like a test for pilots to land their planes at Kai Tak," said Ng, who has lent his personal collection charting Hong Kong's aviation history to the exhibition.

He started collecting airport memorabilia in 1996, and now has over a thousand artefacts.

Both men agree that, having grown with the city since 1927, Kai Tak's part in its history deserved to be recognised.

"Kai Tak has been a big part of my life and I believe it has been part of many Hongkongers' lives," said Hui, who was stationed at Kai Tak airport in the 1980s as a manager at an oil company supplying fuel to the planes.

He suggested the Airport Authority should spare a corner at Chek Lap Kok as a permanent site to showcase exhibits of the old airport.

"I don't mind lending more of my collection to a permanent exhibition," Ng said. "If we don't keep the items, no matter how trivial they are, they will be lost and then forgotten - just like the memories we have of Kai Tak."

But he reckoned the permanent exhibition should be built as part of the redevelopment of the Kai Tak site for housing and leisure use. "That's where Kai Tak airport belongs," he said.

Funded by the Jockey Club Charities Trust, the exhibition is open until January 18 from 10am to 6pm.