Honeymoon flight that ended in horror

Guam air disaster

Nothing looks more solid than a jumbo jet sitting on a runway. But Korean Air flight 801, yesterday's early morning arrival from Seoul to Guam packed with newlyweds on their honeymoon, looks frail, flimsy and surprisingly small.

Only its back end is recognisable as a Boeing 747 - the distinctive tail fin, with the bright blue and red Korean yin-and-yang symbol, is still in one piece, but thrust up at an awkward angle by the jungle vegetation. The cockpit and the bulge of the first class cabin are still partly intact but they are 25 yards away, over a short precipice. The rest of it, the economy class mid-section, is an indistinguishable mass of burned seats, mangled metal, broken cases, and at least 155 human beings.

Even late last night, the remains were too hot too touch, and from here it seems unimaginable that anyone could have survived. Early yesterday, just before 2am, the Boeing 747 severed an oil pipeline, brushed tree tops, and burst into flames on this steep jungle slope, just three miles from the airport where it was going in to land. Judging from the crash site, it is remarkable that anyone escaped. But some 30 passengers survived, although the official number was shrinking every other hour as a few more died in hospital of their injuries.

The only New Zealander on board, a Guam-based helicopter mechanic named Barry Small, literally walked away from the plane, but later underwent emergency surgery on his injured legs. An eleven-year-old Japanese girl named Rika Matsuda was plucked from the wreckage almost unscathed by the Governor of Guam himself, Carl Gutierrez. Her mother, Shigeko, has not been found, and the last of the survivors, believed to be a Korean mother and child, were finally cut out of the wreckage at about 9am yesterday.

Of the hundreds of American soldiers and volunteers, who arrived on the scene an hour after the plane went down, none was under any illusions that they would find anyone else alive.

To the rest of the world, the island of Guam is most significant as an American military base, the biggest of the Mariana chain, from whose islands the Enola Gay was launched to bomb Hiroshima exactly 52 years ago yesterday. Only 150,000 people live on its 212 square miles, a third of which are given over to camps and bases. But to Japanese and Koreans, it is the Barbados of the east, a romantic resort island, also popular with young families. Flight 801, like every flight from Seoul to Guam this month, was full of young children and with honeymooning couples.

Yesterday, their relatives began arriving from Seoul. Bitter recrimination has been heaped by bereaved relatives on the airline and its handling of the crisis. Senior Korean Air officials have arrived in Guam and a modicum of organisation has been restored to the situation, with an emergency news centre set up in a resort hotel. In the early stages, however, there appears to have been no central co-ordination. "No one told us anything! Nothing!" said Jeannie Kim, a 20-year-old Korean-American who waited at the airport until 4am for her father, who was travelling home to Guam from a business trip on Flight 801. "I asked them, `What the hell's going on?' and they said that in fifteen minutes they'd explain. Nobody came. Then some guy told me that there's been a crash. At first I thought he was joking. Everyone was crying, there was hysteria. And now they're giving us the same bullshit." Ms Kim's father is not on the list of survivors. Particular anguish focuses on the airline's reluctance to publish an official list of the dead as well as the living. Korean Air's vice-president, Shim Im Taek, was barracked by relatives as he read out a statement at their hotel yesterday afternoon. "It's not apologies and technical information we need now," shouted one old man. "Tell us about the fate of our loved ones before talking about black boxes."

"They're just giving us the obvious," said Jeannie Kim. "We know there was a crash, we know where it happened. I want to know if my father is alive, or if he is still out there."

The relatives will arrive at the site in their hundreds today; yesterday there was a mere handful, outnumbered by reporters and television crews. A young woman stared down at the wreckage, weeping quietly for her dead husband. The cameramen glanced sheepishly at one another and took it in turns to focus their lenses on her crying face. A Korean man gave a gasping wail and waved his arms. A few times an hour, Boeing 747s droned in almost directly overhead, carrying more children and honeymooners to their tropical summer holiday.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker