Indonesia air crash: 189 killed, grief echoes in pilot’s Delhi home

The plane went into service just months ago and vanished from radar 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, and according to officials, plunged into the Java Sea moments after it had asked to return to the Indonesian capital.

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi | Updated: October 30, 2018 7:46:49 am
Indonesia air crash: 189 killed, grief echoes in pilot’s Delhi home The pilot’s family leaves for Jakarta to bring back remains.

“He is fine, and we will bring him back.” This is all the parents of 31-year-old Bhavye Suneja repeated through Monday, hours after the Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed that the Lion Air flight JT610 that Suneja was flying crashed minutes after it took off from Jakarta.

There were 189 people on board the Lion Air Boeing-737 MAX aircraft, including three children and eight crew members. The plane went into service just months ago and vanished from radar 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, and according to officials, plunged into the Java Sea moments after it had asked to return to the Indonesian capital.

At his parents’ house in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar-I, friends and family gathered through the morning as news of the crash spread – some who saw Bhavye grow up, others who grew up with him and remember him as someone they went to Karate or coaching classes with. At 5:30 pm, Suneja’s parents Sangeeta and Gulshan, and his younger sister Ruhani left for the airport, to board a flight to Jakarta. “Pray for us,” is all that Sangeeta said before leaving.

Read | Lion Air flight had a mixed safety record before Monday’s crash

Suneja studied at Ahlcon Public School, and according to his LinkedIn profile, received his commercial pilot licence (CPL) from the California-based Bel-Air International pilot training and flight school. He joined Lion Air in 2011. Suneja married Garima Sethi in 2016 and the couple lived in Jakarta. Sethi’s parents too left for Jakarta the same day.

Sangeeta Suneja mother of Bhavye Suneja, the captain of the Indonesian plane that crashed soon after take off from Jakarta, Indonesia today, at their Mayur Vihar residence, in New Delhi. (PTI photo) 

A day before the crash, Sethi posted photos on Facebook with her husband as they celebrated Karva Chauth. A neighbour who visited the Suneja’s Monday afternoon said, “The parents are hoping for the best…they can’t accept that this has happened, no one can.”

“Bhavye dreamt of becoming a pilot since he was a child…flying was his passion. He loved travelling but wanted to shift to Delhi because he wanted to be close to his family,” said Suneja’s childhood friend Pragya Srivastava (30). She said that as soon as she heard about the crash, she called Suneja’s mobile phone. “I couldn’t get through, so I called his wife, who was in no condition to talk.”

Read |  Bhavye Suneja had asked us to get ready for a party in Delhi: Friends of Indian pilot killed in Lion Air flight crash

Suneja and his wife were set to visit Delhi on November 5 to celebrate Diwali with friends and family. His school friend Puneesh Manchanda (31) said, “I spoke to him last on his birthday in September…we were supposed to meet on Diwali. He was always smiling, he didn’t stress about much…even in school, when he scored low marks, he would be happy. That’s how I’ll remember him.”

A smiling Suneja is also how his Canada-based pilot Rishabh Manchanda (31) remembers his childhood friend, who he last spoke to on Dussehra. “He was a quality pilot, we often spoke about our flights and landings. It’s devastating, and as a pilot, I am trying to understand what went wrong. The news hasn’t sunk in…I am hoping against hope that he survives, the body hasn’t been found yet after all,” he told The Indian Express from Canada. Manchanda recalled his last chat with Suneja 10 days ago when he teased him about “wanting to become a chacha.”

The pilot and his wife’s close friend Manvi (28) spoke about their impending Delhi plans — from a party with friends to Diwali at home, and also a trip to the hills in the works. “He would often tell me how much he loved Garima, and it was his routine to call her every time before take off to tell her that his phone would be off. The two come to Delhi around Diwali, also to celebrate Garima’s birthday on November 16. He was a brother to me…he was also very attached to his sister Ruhani,” she said.

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