We took off smoothly for the short flight from Singapore to Jakarta, and I started falling asleep. Suddenly I was woken up by the sound of two bangs, like a bomb or truck tire blowing out. My wife gripped my hand and asked “Do you smell something burning?” Yes, there was a sharp smell stinging my nose. I realized there was something wrong because all the stewardesses ran back with the food carts.
The plane started to vibrate, harder and harder. I held my wife’s hand tightly and looked at her face as she started praying. My two younger children were asleep, after their first ever trip abroad, but not Pradipta, the eldest one. “Pra look through the window and watch outside,” I said. “I see light, I see fire, I see fire,” he said. Then the electricity was switched off.
I realized the plane, an Airbus A330, had a big problem. I was afraid because I thought we would die. Pradipta looked into my eyes and asked: “Will we die?” I was afraid and could not answer the question. I looked at all my children’s faces and held my lovely wife’s hands tightly.
During my many years of assignments as a Reuters photojournalist, when flying I have imagined being on a plane that had a problem that forced an emergency landing, and then taking pictures. But I never imagined this situation with my family. But it happened. We will die together, so we can fly to heaven together, I thought. If we die together, I will not miss my wife’s delicious cooking, I will not miss the smell of my kids’ sweat. There will be no tears among us. My thoughts, to my surprise, stopped me being afraid any more.
“Will we die?” Pradipta asked again. I looked into his eyes, held his hand tightly and said: “No, we’re alive, we’re still alive,” then I gave him a high five just as if we were playing basketball.