Relatives return to crash site for memorial service

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 May, 1993, 12:00am

A SIMPLE memorial service on a hillside in Thailand tomorrow will mark the second anniversary of the Lauda Air crash in which a passenger jet disintegrated at 8,000 metres, killing all 223 people on board, including 52 Hongkong residents.

It will be hard for the returning relatives of the dead to see the quiet jungle scene around them without recalling the images of mangled wreckage and barely-identifiable bodies that greeted them on their first visit to the spot near Huay Kamin, 220 kilometres northwest of the Thai capital in Suphan Buri province.

Hundreds of relatives had then flown from all over the world for a nightmare two weeks in which they had to attempt to identify their loved ones from rows of rapidly decomposing, unrefrigerated corpses in a Bangkok hospital, and deal with a frustratinglycomplex bureaucracy.

Most were forced to return home without any of the personal possessions of their dead relatives, after the wreckage had been carefully looted by local villagers and by voluntary rescue teams.

Some people could not even bring back the cremated remains of their relatives: even after the combined efforts of dental and forensic experts, 27 bodies were never identified.

For some, attending a funeral service at the site where flight NG004 from Bangkok to Vienna crashed, and coming back for anniversary memorial services on May 26 each year, has been an important part of the long process of coming to terms with their bereavement.

A spokesman for Lauda Air in Vienna said: ''We organised this commemoration last year, and if people need it we'll do it again next year.

''We have offered them an invitation to stay for several days at our expense, and attend a special memorial service. For some people a return to the site can help a little in living through their grief.'' The spokesman was unwilling to say how many people had decided to return to the site this year, nor how many of those would come from Hongkong.

''This is a very private matter for the relatives, and we respect their privacy,'' he said.