Twist of Fate Put Journalists, Officials on Plane

Delays in an Australian minister’s schedule combined with twists of fate to send officials and journalists to their deaths in an inferno on a Garuda Indonesia airliner, reports said on Thursday.

Five Australians were among the 21 believed dead after the Garuda Boeing 737 crashed at Yogyakarta airport on Wednesday morning as they flew to the town ahead of visiting Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Some were due to have been on a plane that left the previous evening, but missed that flight when Downer’s visit to a school in the capital Jakarta ran over schedule, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper’s Jakarta correspondent, Stephen Fitzpatrick, described how, in a further twist, fate decreed he would live but fellow Jakarta-based journalist, the Australian Financial Review’s Morgan Mellish, would die.

Both men were booked on a Garuda flight to Yogyakarta on Tuesday evening, but realized while following Downer on the school visit that they would miss the plane.

Discovering that the next morning’s doomed Garuda flight was fully booked they reluctantly took seats on an Adam Air service leaving half an hour later “despite its appalling safety record,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

But later that night, Mellish was having a drink with other journalists and Australian embassy officials when he was told there was a spare ticket on the Garuda flight in the name of an embassy staffer.

Embassy spokeswoman Liz O’Neill – who is also missing and believed dead – offered the ticket to Mellish “and his fate was sealed,” Fitzpatrick said.

“I caught the Adam Air flight, which was turned around just minutes from Yogyakarta, after the Garuda flight crashed on landing,” he wrote.

The other Australians killed were federal police officers Brice Steele and Mark Scott, and embassy staffer Alison Sudrajat.

Five other Australians, including Sydney Morning Herald foreign affairs correspondent Cynthia Banham, were injured in the crash.

Downer was to have traveled to Yogyakarta on his own official plane.

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