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'Woman in flames' haunts Cecilia's dreams
Published on: Sunday, October 31, 2010
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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POST traumatic stress disorder clings to Papar-hailed Cecilia Barintang, 50, who survived Sabah's worst fatal plane crash in Tawau, 1995. Nightmare haunts her every time she attempts to sleep at night, ever since!

Back-tracking to history, the MAS Fokker 50 crash on September 15 killed 34, including Chief pilot Captain Wong Khang Lock, 40, and young co-pilot, Su Tiong Hee, 24, when their plane touched down 500m from the end of the runway, overshot it, crashed into Kg Seri Menanti squatter houses, exploded minutes later and fire incinerated the plane.

It remains a mystery why the plane landed three-quarters to the end of the 2,200m runway, which gave it no room to make a safe go-around.

The persistent trauma has turned Cecilia's life topsy-turvy since.

She inherits a serious sleeping disorder, apparently.

"It's incredible, I find it impossible to sleep since that crash 15 years ago," Cecilia said.

"Doctors gave me sleeping pills but I didn't take them because I don't want to get hooked," she said.

But the big reason is scary apparitions trouble her deeply every time she goes to bed at night.

"As long as I sleep at night, nightmare starts. I see this woman, her body on fire, holding her hands to me in my nightmare," she related.

"Then two children would come into my dream, running up to me, shouting for help."

"Because of that, I didn't sleep for six months after the crash.

I still don't sleep at night even now. I stay awake till 3am, sleep at 4am, sleep two hours, wake up at 6am and try go to bed again at 12 noon but I don't sleep much, I am used to it already," Cecilia claimed.

To 'kill' all those sleepless nights, she reads, plays computer games or chat with her 'friends' overseas, since night time in Sabah is day time in, say, America, she said.

Some restaurants or pubs open till 2-3am in Papar.

She reasoned she might as well "pass time" working in those late night establishment, go home, bathe, sleep at 4am, up at 6am, do some light work in the morning.

But who is this woman who keeps haunting her dreams for 15 years?

She is a plump, "middle-aged" Chinese lady she got acquainted with at the old KKIA departure hall but "I didn't know her," Cecelia remembered.

"We were at the departure lounge of Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

MAS had scheduled the flight at 11am but delayed it way past 12 noon.

I was carrying two big Doraemon stuffed dolls. As we waited, this woman came behind me, kept asking why I bought the dolls and how much I paid for them," Cecelia recalled.

"I said one is for my niece, the other for my daughter Anne.

Then she started speaking in Hakka to me (as Cecilia can be mistaken as a Chinese easily).

I can understand Hakka but speak only a little.

So I answered in Malay. Then she asked why our flight was so late," Cecelia remembered.

It looks like the non-stop pestering of a stranger began to annoy Cecilia, at that point.

"I started to ignore her, I walked away but she still kept coming after me.

Sadly, I never saw her again. The crash killed her. Since I ignored her in the end, I wonder if that has left a trace of guilt which became the precursor to my nightmares where I keep seeing her coming to me in flames," Cecilia queried.

But who are the two boys running to her in her dream shouting for help?

Again, the link goes back to the departure hall in KKIA.

Two children, wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt each, ran around in the departure hall as the flight delay wore on.

"Sadly, they also died in the crash, together with their parents but the children kept coming into my dreams, running up to me, shouting for help!"

A range of troubling ailments stalked her, after the crash.

Heart palpitation is one.

"When a very bad one strikes, I get panic attack. I am afraid.

I rush myself to the hospital's emergency section. I do that always.

The Papar hospital is like my second home now. They all know me there," she said.

She attributed this problem to persistent loss of adequate sleep.

"Before the crash, I always slept soundly and I didn't have heart palpitation either," Cecilia noted.

"Three years after the crash, I also developed hypothyroidism (a condition marked by insufficient production of thyroid hormones, especially T3 and T4), " she said.

Her body weight dropped from a normal 47kgs to 44kgs.

The thyroid gland, located normally at the front of the neck, runs the body's metabolism.

A lack of thyroid hormones slows down metabolism.

She remembers her good pre-crash appetite but post-crash appetite diminished.

In her search for a possible cause, she looks at the crash as well.

She said she knocked her head and shoulder hard during the crash.

Her neck hurt quite a lot after the crash.

Did that impact hurt the cells of the thyroid gland?

"The landing was very unusual," she recalled.

"The plane nose-dived very fast. When the wheels touched down, it hit the runway very hard, bounced up, hit the ground again, it rumbled and rumbled. I think the pilots attempted to pull back but failed.

The plane overshot and landed on top of kampung houses," Cecilia said.

Sitting on a window seat, she said: " I knocked my head and shoulder hard."

" The crash dislocated my shoulder. They X-rayed it in the Tawau General Hospital but told me there is nothing wrong. When I came back to Kota Kinabalu, I couldn't even take off my blouse on my own.

I went to see a Tai Chi master, he pulled it and my shoulder felt okay, until last year when the pain bacame so unbearable sometimes that is forced me to take panadols ," Cecilia claimed.

But wary of addiction to pain killers and drugs, she goes to the physiotherapist in Bukit Padang every week.

"The old shoulder injury rules me out from heavier jobs.

Work is not possible because I keep going to the hospital," Cecelia cites her dilemma.


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