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A Missed Departure, A Lifetime in Return

Man Denied Boarding on Pan Am 812 on April 22, 1974 Remembers the 107 Passengers Who Died on a Hillside in North Bali

(12/9/2013) April 22, 2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of a tragic air crash in Bali that killed the 107 passengers and crew when a Pan Am jet crashed into a hillside in North Bali at about 11:30 pm.

Pan Am 812 was flying from Hong Kong to Bali, an intermediate stop for the Boeing 707-321B destined for Sydney, Australia

Investigators eventually concluded that the plane, inbound for a landing on runway 090 at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport, was the victim of pilot error and flight instrument failure. The plane was cleared by Bali Flight Control to descend to 10,000 feet. Later, 52-year-old Captain Donald Zinke and First Officer John Schroeder, seeing an automatic direction finder needle swing, turned, believing they were inbound on the Bali runway, and requested permission to descend on a bearing for Bali’s active runway.

The last message from the pilot-in-command suggested the cockpit was disoriented with Schoeder asking, “Hey - Tower, what is your visibility out there now?"

That was the last communication from the aircraft heard by Bali Tower who were repeatedly broadcasting the unanswered messages of "Clipper eight one two, Bali Tower" and "Clipper eight one two, Bali Tower, how do you read."

Pan Am 812 had plowed into a remote hillside in North Bali, 37 kilometers Northwest of the airport

Today, a dignified and serene monument bearing all the names of the 107 who died from 11 countries sits amidst a clump of trees on the bank of the Ayung River in Denpasar, just 5-10 minutes from the busy Jalan Ngurah Bypass in Padang Galak.

Past coverage by balidiscovery.com of the tragic crash occasionally provokes emails from people who remember the crash or who had friends and relatives who died in the accident.

None, however, are more interesting than the communication we recently received from a 55-year-old Australian, John Plummer, living on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with his wife and 4 children.

Plummer, who works as a consultant to the oil and gas industry, has a unique perspective and vivid memories of crash of Pan Am 812.

15-years old at the time of the crash, John Plummer was enjoying an Easter holiday with an Aunt in Hong Kong, taking a break from The King’s School in Sydney where he was boarder. Preparing to fly home on as a member of Cathay Pacific airline staff family (his Father worked for Cathay) and using a concessional ticket, he presented himself at the stand-by desk for the Pan Am flight that would take him back to Sydney via Bali.

However, because Pan Am 812 was fully booked, young Plummer was denied boarding, sent home and told to try again the following day.

Disappointed at not to being able to fly back to Sydney, young John returned to his Aunt’s home and a warm bed only to wake the following morning to read of the disaster in the South China Morning Post and learn that the all the people with whom he shared the boarding lounge in Hong Kong's airport had died during the night.

Plummer relates that he has suffered “survivor's grief” over the intervening years, haunted by the knowledge of how narrowly he escaped death.

In the early 1980s, as a young man in his 20s, John Plummer visited Bali and traveled to the mountainside where the Pan Am aircraft crashed. There he found a hot springs where he lingered, gazing a mountain that nearly became his grave.

He says he still remembers all the faces of his fellow passengers checking into the flight in Hong Kong.

John Plummer has seldom spoken of the incident with friends and families but would now be interested to hear from fellow survivors, families of survivors and those, like himself, who failed to board the flight in Hong Kong or Bali.

He is also asking if some sort of memorial service is planned on the 40th anniversary of the crash in Bali that he and surviving friends and relativescould attend.

Shown on Balidiscovery.com are pictures of John Plummer in 1974 and today with his family.

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Those wishing to contact John can [Email Balidiscory.com]  and we will relay the message.

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