Nine family members perished on New Year’s Day when the pick-up truck they were travelling in plunged into Sungai Batang Lupar at the Triso ferry jetty in Beladin, Sarawak.
“My wife insisted on sending our two daughters back to their school in Kuching yesterday,” said Mohamad Hamzah Razali, the husband of Siti Aishah Abdullah who was among nine people who perished after their vehicle plunged into the river at the Triso Ferry Point on Friday.
The 43-year-old preacher said he did not expect that to be a sign that his wife will leave him forever.
Hamzah said normally, he and his late wife would send and fetch their two daughters Khairunnisa, 14, and Nur Syuhada, 16, to and from the school.
“However, yesterday, she (Siti Aishah) insisted to be with her sister (Lorna Ting, 33) to send our daughters back to the school in Kuching,” he said when met by reporters at the Sri Aman Hospital today.
Siti Aishah, 36, Lorna, together with Kharunnisa and Nur Suhada died after the four-wheel drive vehicle they were in went out of control and plunged into Sungai Batang Lupar, at the ferry point yesterday.
Hamzah’s three other children identified as Mohd Aiman, seven, Mohd Mustaqim, five, and four-month-old Mohd Ahmad were also killed in the tragedy at about 3pm which also claimed the lives of their two cousins, Wallace Phang, seven, and Alvin Phang, 12.
Hamzah said the last time he received a WhatsApp message from his wife was after Friday prayers, saying that she was on her way to Kuching with her brother-in-law and other family members in two vehicles.
“I found out about the incident after receiving a call from my mother-in-law at about 3.19pm,” he said adding he accepted the fate that had befallen his family as a test from God.
Munah Agon, 58, the mother of Siti Aishah and Lorna when met at the Sri Aman Hospital Forensic Unit said she was still in shock over the incident.
Recalling moments before the tragedy, Munah who was travelling in another vehicle trailing the unfortunate 4WD said she was only able to scream upon seeing the vehicle driven by Lorna suddenly lose control and then plunge into the river.
“I couldn’t do anything except watch the car started to sink before my children and grandchildren were pulled out of the river by members of the public,” said Munah who lost two daughters and seven grandchildren in the incident.
It was reported that people who were at the jetty area managed to tie the Ford Ranger with iron chains and ropes to the jetty, to stop it from sinking further, before removing all the victims who had been trapped in their vehicle.
Munah said Nur Syuhada and Khairunisa who were students at a religious school in Samariang, Kuching were expected to start their education session next week.
“The matter was informed by Siti Aishah when she visited my house recently. Feeling a little uneasy, I decided to join them using another vehicle driven by my son.
“Before leaving, Siti Aishah in a humorous tone had also asked me to dress beautifully,” she said.
In the latest development, six of the victims have been laid to rest at a Muslim cemetery at Kampung Hulu at about 5.30pm today.
Siti Aishah and her five children were buried in a solemn ceremony.
The bodies of three of the remaining victims, Ting, Wallace Phang, and Alvin Phang are scheduled to be transported back to Sibu tonight.
Meanwhile, Triso ferry skipper Kurmi Denan could not sleep well last night thinking of the passenger-laden pickup truck sinking into the murky waters of Batang Lupar while its passengers were frantically trying to get out of the vehicle.
Being among the first to witness the incident, he recounted the ordeal to reporters when met on the very same ferry he was commandeering on that fateful day.
“I was about to ‘sign in’ (dock) at the ferry ramp, about 30 to 40 meters away. Initially there were no vehicles waiting above the ramp.
“So, I was focusing on docking the ferry trying to align up with the ramp when suddenly a pickup truck just drove down the ramp as if not attempting to brake.
“I was stunned with what happened before my own eyes,” he recalled.
Kurmi said he immediately informed his colleague of what happened before cancelling his docking procedure and diverted to the spot where the pickup truck was sinking.
“I brought along my passengers on board to the spot where the pickup truck was sinking because the vehicle was still partially submerged.
“I lowered my ramp in an attempt to push the vehicle towards the shallow bank, but it continued to sink.
“It was so heart wrenching to see the victims frantically struggling inside the vehicle.
“I could not sleep well last night thinking about it. When I closed my eyes, the scene played again in my head,” he said.
Kurmi said he was also disappointed with several posts on social media blaming the ferry operator or the skipper, which was him at the time, accusing them of not observing safety measures which was said to have led to the incident.
Earlier today, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing urged netizens and the public not to speculate on the cause of the Triso ferry ramp accident.
He said to let the police and other authorities carry out their investigations to find out what actually happened.
This morning during a visit to the site of the incident, Masing said he had been briefed by Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Ports Development Datuk Julaihi Narawi and the ferry operator that it was a self-accident.
He was also told that the ill-fated vehicle might have overshot the ramp before losing control and plunged into the Batang Lupar river.
“The car fell off the ferry ramp, not the ferry. Therefore, it is not the ferry operator’s fault. What actually happened, we still don’t know, the car (wreckage) is still there.
“For all you know there might have been a mechanical problem, we cannot answer that. Let the police investigate,” he said.