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From Amsterdam to Tokyo

THE 400 Series Boeing 747 has been used by almost every airline in the world. Garuda Indonesia Airlines has three. However, this plane, manufactured by Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the United States, and which was used on the Jakarta-Singapore-Amsterdam route, has the distinction of being the crime scene in the murder of human rights activist Munir.


Our tale begins on September 6, 2004. At about 10:05 Western Indonesian Time or 15:02 GMT, this jumbo jet with a seating capacity of 400 headed for Singapore with pilot Sabur Muhammad Taufik as the flight’s captain. At an average speed of 909 kilometers per hour, the Jakarta-Singapore flight took only 80 minutes.

The GA 974 flight touched down at Changi Airport at about 16:40 GMT and parked for about 1 hour and 13 minutes at Gate D42, before finally continuing its flight. Panton Matondang was the flight captain for the second leg of the journey. It normally takes 12 hours for the plane to reach Amsterdam, Holland.

The problem appeared three hours into the flight. According to Panton, as he told police, at that time flight attendant Najib Nasution entered the cockpit and reported on the condition of the passenger in seat 40G, who was none other than Munir. He was complaining of stomach pain and had made several trips to the bathroom. According to Nadjib, Munir had been treated by Dr. Tarmizi Hakim, a doctor whom he had met in Changi.

One and a half hours later, Najib returned to report that Munir’s condition had improved. However, two hours before the plane landed, it was reported that Munir’s hands were stiff and cold. It turned out that this man born in Batu, East Java, had died. This horrible episode took place at an altitude of 40,000 feet in Hungarian airspace.

According to the standard procedure, the crew had to report to Garuda’s central office in Jakarta before informing the management of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. After landing at 6:11 GMT, two Dutch Police officers arrived and asked the passengers to stay on board the plane. Panton and the passengers near seat G, including Tarmizi, were interrogated. They were allowed to leave the plane 30 minutes later.

The plane stayed in Schiphol for two days before returning to Jakarta on September 9. On November 1, 2004, Garuda shut down the route. Did this have anything to do with Munir’s death? “There is no connection. The closure was done because the route was no longer profitable,” said Garuda Indonesia spokesman Pudjobroto, last Wednesday.

The plane was never mentioned again until the Fact-Finding Team (TPF) for the Munir case requested to use it for a preliminary reenactment. However, this plan failed because the Garuda crew connected to this case were on duty elsewhere on a number of routes. It was the police who finally held the reenactment on this plane in a Garuda hangar at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta on June 23, 2005.

After repeated investigations, Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who had been on board the flight as an extra crew member, was accused of murdering Munir. The Central Jakarta District Court and the Jakarta High Court sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment. However, the Supreme Court declared that Polly was not guilty. The case was again unsolved.

Usman Hamid, the former Secretary of the Munir TPF, suggested holding a reenactment to track down the murderer. However, spokesman for National Police HQ, Brig. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam said that the crime scene on the plane had long been contaminated and was no longer similar to conditions at the time of the event. To date, said Anton, there is no plan to hold another reenactment.

For Garuda, this case has not forced the government-owned airline to take the plane out of service. According to Pujobroto, it is being used on the Jakarta-Tokyo route.

Abdul Manan

Tempo Magazine, No. 07/VII/Oct 17 - 23, 2006

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