Missing S'porean flight instructor had always wanted to be a pilot
One of the last text messages Mr Lua Boon Huan sent to his friends reminisced about the good old days when they were still in junior college.
On Monday, Mr Lua's friend, who wanted to be known only as Mr Zach, received another WhatsApp message that rendered him speechless.
Mr Lua, 30, a flight instructor, had gone missing.
The Singaporean was on a flight with a trainee, flying from the island of Lombok to Sumbawa, an Indonesian island east of Lombok, last Thursday.
Mr Lua and the trainee, Mr Jati Wikanto, 26, an Indonesian from Yogyakarta in Central Java, had taken off from Lombok International Airport.
The pair were supposed to land at Sultan Muhammad Kaharuddin III Airport in Sumbawa Besar, a town in Sumbawa.
The plane lost contact near Moyo Island at around 10.30am last Thursday. A search-and-rescue operation has found parts of the plane and belongings of the trainee.
Mr Zach, 29, who works in sales, told The New Paper yesterday that he and his friends on the chat group frantically searched the Internet for more information about the incident once they received the news.
Heaving a sigh, he said: "One of the Indonesian news sites mentioned that the Singaporean's name is 'Boon Hua Lua'.
"For a while, this typo gave us a glimmer of hope that it was not our friend."
Unfortunately, through other news portals, Mr Zach confirmed that it was indeed his friend who had gone missing.
Mr Lua, who is single, is the chief flight instructor at the Lombok Institute of Flight Technology (Lift), a flight training academy based in Lombok.
The flight school, which started in 2010, offers courses including those for licences to be a private pilot, a commercial pilot and a flight instructor.
Mr Tarigan, a quality control officer at Lift, told TNP that the pair were in a Liberty XL2 plane, a twin-seater propeller plane for one passenger and one crew.
According to online aircraft encyclopedia flugzeuginfo.net, it is produced by American manufacturer Liberty Aerospace.
A video on Lift's website reveals that a Liberty XL2 plane is capable of a cruise speed of about 230kmh. It stated that because of this, the aircraft is "perfect for long cross-country training flights around the Indonesian islands".
Responding to queries from TNP, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Singapore embassy in Jakarta has been in close touch with the Indonesian authorities on the search operations since the incident last week.
Its spokesman added: "An embassy official is currently at the accident site and assisting the family members of the Singaporean pilot."
Mr Zach said that he and Mr Lua were classmates in junior college.
He added: "We became close as both of us were in the football team.
"Even back then, he always mentioned that he wanted to be a pilot but couldn't, as he was wearing glasses."
The pair drifted apart when they entered national service.
Mr Zach said that soon after, Mr Lua, whom he fondly calls "Boon", left Singapore for Europe to further his studies in the hospitality industry.
They reconnected more than five years ago when the latter returned and worked in a local hotel.
They also began to play football with their friends about once a week in Serangoon.
Mr Zach said he thinks Mr Lua, who was not bespectacled by then, later realised that working in a hotel was "not his thing".
The latter later left Singapore to obtain his pilot licence, after which he remained overseas.
Even though they did not meet up face to face, the two friends kept in contact regularly via WhatsApp.
Mr Zach said he has been very worried since the news about the disappearance.
"I just hope that the plane is found with Boon and the trainee is safe and sound," he said.
WHERE IT HAPPENED
TNP GRAPHICS: CEL GULAPA
Latest on rescue efforts by Indonesians
Since last Thursday, rescuers have been searching an area of more than 200 sq km south-east of Moyo Island.
This is about a third the size of Singapore.
But rough seas and strong winds in the evenings limit the daily search-and-rescue (SAR) work, said Basarnas spokesman Lalu Wahyu Effendi.
Basarnas, Indonesia's national search-and-rescue agency, is heading the SAR operations.
Mr Wahyu, 35, head of the operations, told The New Paper yesterday: "Yesterday, on the sixth day of the operation, we came up empty-handed. We had no results the day before, too."
But the SAR party, made up of about 70 military, navy personnel, divers, local fishermen and volunteers, had some initial success.
On the first day, rescuers found a fire extinguisher which they believed belonged to the missing aircraft, as Lift (Lombok Institute of Flight Technology) was inscribed on the extinguisher.
The next day, parts of the airplane's glass window and a life vest were discovered.
On Sunday, rescuers found a bag, a sunglass case and a wallet, Mr Wahyu said.
The wallet contained automated teller machine cards belonging to the missing Indonesian flight trainee, Mr Jati Wikanto.
Most of the items and debris have been found close to Moyo Island or in the open sea, south-east of the island.
But as of yesterday, the missing men have yet to be found.
Each day, the SAR teams scour the seas using a variety of ways, from visually scanning the waters to using underwater cameras, sonar devices and deploying divers.
Mr Wahyu added: "After seven days, we will cease SAR operations.
"But if any of our counterparts or eyewitnesses find new leads, we will redeploy our SAR efforts again."