|Emotional: Annette Herfkens (right) signs her book, which has been translated into Vietnamese, at a meeting in HCM City yesterday. — VNS Photo Van Dat
HCM CITY (VNS) — Annette Herfkens, the sole survivor of a Vietnam Airlines plane accident that killed 30 passengers and crew members in the central coast province of Khanh Hoa 22 years ago, returned to Viet Nam recently to meet the widows of the pilot and crew members who died in a helicopter that crashed while searching for the aircraft.
During the tearful meeting with the women, the Dutch author of the memoir Turbulence: A Survival Story said she was not aware that seven people had died in the helicopter crash until she returned to Viet Nam in 2006 to visit O Kha Mountain in the province's Khanh Son District, the site of the airplane accident.
In 1992, she and her fiance had boarded Vietnam Airlines Flight 474 on a Yak-40 airline to visit the coastal city of Nha Trang.
When she first returned to Viet Nam 14 years later, she could not return to the crash site, as the memories were too painful, she said.
"This time, I feel very positive and warm. Returning to Viet Nam this time, I am focusing on what I gained, not what I lost," she said at a press conference held in HCM City on Tuesday.
"Meeting women who also lost their husbands is very special because for many years I have been the only one in Holland. Now it is very nice to connect with them. It's beautiful," she said.
Herfkens, whose book was published in the US this year, said she had written the book as a "message to the victims' family members to stay open to accept everything".
She said she hoped that her ordeal of having to survive eight days in the forest after the crash would bring courage to the victims' relatives.
"The worst things that happened to my life have become a precious gift to me," she said.
Herfkens recalled that she survived alone in the jungle with only rainwater.
"Everything happened very quickly. My boyfriend and I held hands tightly. When I woke up, I found myself lying under a seat and was shocked to see that my fiance had died," she said.
Despite being surrounded by dead bodies, the city girl said that she had admired the beautiful flowers, trees and dew of the forest, though she knew that she had lost her best friend, college sweetheart and soulmate.
"Why did not I think of the muckworms and the stink from the dead bodies? It was because of the beauty and peace of the jungle," she said.
During an exchange with the media organised by HCM City's Tri Viet Book Company, which published the book in Vietnamese, Nguyen Thi Lan, whose husband Nguyen Quang Vinh died while captaining the Mi-8 helicopter, told Herfkens in tears that she could not forget the pain and sadness.
Her husband and all the crew members died in the helicopter crash.
Yesterday, Herfkens and the surviving relatives of the victims of both the Vietnam Airlines and helicopter crashes returned to O Kha Mountain, where they had an emotional meeting. — VNS