The influential snap of Double Six

A deputy federal minister was the man behind the lens of the iconic Double Six picture shot 45 years ago

TO observers, the mysterious Double Six tragedy will be one of the most essential pieces of Sabah history. But little is known about who was behind the camera at the air crash site. 

Double Six, or June 6, 1976, marks the date of the air crash that killed the then Sabah chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens, finance minister Datuk Salleh Sulong, State Local Government and Housing Datuk Peter Mojuntin, State Public works and Communications Minister Chong Thien Vun, Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister Datuk Darius Binion and several others. 

The plane was heading to Kota Kinabalu from Labuan after the ministers’ onboard concluded oil talks with the then finance minister and Petronas chairman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. 

While the annual commemoration at the air crash site could not be held this year due to the pandemic, The Vibes had discovered the most pivotal photo was taken by Malaysia’s current Deputy Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Datuk Senator Guandee Kohoi. While there are many other pictures of the crash, there was nothing quite like the one Kohoi had captured.

The influential snap of Double Six 
The Double Six tragedy photo taken by Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Senator Guandee Kohoi who worked as a journalist for RTM back in the 70s. He was only 24 years old when the Double Six air crash happened 45 years ago. – The Vibes pic

Kohoi was a 24-year-old RTM journalist who had only three shots left from a film camera he borrowed from a colleague. As the story goes, Kohoi was on newsroom duty at Sabah RTM on that fateful afternoon when an anonymous call came into the newsroom at 3.40pm and he picked it up. 

“’Is this the newsroom?’ the caller asked, and I replied, ‘Right’. 

“Tuan, ada kapal terbang jatuh ni di Sembulan dalam air. Bagus kamu datang ambil gambar.” (sir, there has been an air crash in Sembulan, in the water. Best if you come to take photos)

The caller hangs up even before he could get the name. Kohoi said there was only two staff newsroom duty that day – himself and Chinese translator and Sandakan-based Chinese newspaper reporter Wong Nyuk Min. 

The Double Six Memorial in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. – The Vibes file pic
The Double Six Memorial in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. – The Vibes file pic

Wong was the only one with a camera and in it, Kohoi said Wong had a 24-roll film, with only three shots left. Kohoi borrowed Wong’s camera and rushed to the scene on a motorcycle. 

He arrived at the crash site around 3.55pm and from the spot where he stood, he was able to see the detached plane’s tail-piece buried under two feet of shallow waters. 

He realised he had arrived early as the police and rescuers have not arrived at the scene yet. He started taking his shots. 

“Only five minutes later did police and firemen arrive. At first, I had no idea who was inside the aircraft. 

“But, a police officer shouted at me – ‘Who are you?’ I told him, ‘Guandee, sir, from RTM,’. And I was ordered to get out of the crash site. 

“The officer said, ‘If you don’t get out, I’ll throw away your camera,” said Kohoi, adding that the officer was the then Sabah police commissioner, Yusof Khan. 

From that point, Guandee said he suspected that those onboard must be VVIPs and recalled that the chief minister had gone to Labuan earlier in the morning the same day. 

Monument Double Six, Sembulan, Kota Kinabalu

Guandee rushed back to RTM, arriving back in his office at 4.30pm with the then RTM director, the late Datuk Suhaimi Amin, already waiting for him. 

“He told me to hand over the camera to photo chief Tommy Chang to develop the film.

The same day Guandee’s suspicions were confirmed that indeed those on board were part of Sabah cabinet ministers, including the CM Fuad. 

State landscape department gardener Azlan Karim wiping the nameplate of victims of the tragedy in September last year. – The Vibes file pic
State landscape department gardener Azlan Karim wiping the nameplate of victims of the tragedy in September last year. – The Vibes file pic

“I could not help but be filled with sadness. The whole of Sabah mourned their passing,” said Kohoi, adding that the next day he turned up for work as usual. Kohoi said the photo is credited to RTM, not him, but added that many had used his photo to recall the tragedy. 

The memory of the air crash lives on. And over the years many quarters have called on the federal government to reveal the investigation papers of the air crash. 

The federal government has not declassified the investigation papers. But political calls from Sabah have over the years demanded the document be made public. 

Official records show the investigating team did not reveal technical errors of sabotage. Instead, the aircraft was overloaded. 

There are accusations of assassination plot linked to the signing of the Petroleum Agreement. This had led to Sabah only receiving 5% oil royalty from the national oil company, Petronas. 

Kohoi’s shots, which have graced many Double Six commemoration events, will always be part of Sabah’s history. 

Kohoi’s picture is also displayed at the Double Six archive built next to the Double Six Monument, erected at the original site of the air crash. 

When asked if he remembers the original crash site, Guandee said the site of the monument could be the original site. But he could not confirm further as the whole area has now been reclaimed.

Despite the lockdown, Sabah police gave the green light for the commemoration ceremony of the Double Six tragedy in Sembulan today.

By : Jason Santos – THE VIBES

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