GE14 grounding of private jet – coincidence or conspiracy?

Trouble brewed for Dr M on eve of nomination day in 2018 GE.

My parents and those of us who were going to join him in Langkawi were due to fly to the island on Friday, April 27 (2018), the day before Nomination Day, so that we would be fresh and relaxed the next morning.

I had booked myself a ticket on the 1.25pm Firefly flight to Langkawi and after accompanying my parents to file Dad’s papers, was to leave for Penang to attend a rally there. Mum and Dad were flying with their entourage on a loaned private jet. At the last minute, I was told they had a spare seat so decided to forego my ticket and join them.

I got to the Subang Private Jet terminal early at about 2pm and sat in the waiting lounge for Mum and Dad to arrive. Our plan was to arrive in Langkawi at about 4pm and proceed straight to the Election Commission office to check that they had all the necessary papers ready for the next day. The EC office was closing at 5pm.

Soon after my parents arrived, the pilot of the plane had a word with Dad. There was a technical problem with the plane which they were trying to fix. This would take some time and he was unsure when the plane would be ready to fly.

A major spanner was thrown into the day’s plans. I had already missed my flight. The next commercial flight to Langkawi that day was at 4pm or so, which would arrive on the island after the EC office had closed. If they could not fix the plane soon, the only options were to borrow another plane. Or drive.

Switching planes is not like switching cars. Even if there was one readily available, you cannot just roll out a plane from a garage, get into the cockpit and take off. You need to have a qualified pilot and crew, do all the necessary pre-flight technical checks and file a flight plan with the Department of Civil Aviation before you even start your engines. This would take at least an hour, if there was a plane and crew ready.

Driving to Langkawi was not a viable option either. It would take about seven hours to drive to Kuala Perlis, get on a ferry to do the one-hour crossing to Kuah, the main town on the island. By then it would be late at night and my parents would be exhausted, in no state to check important papers.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories but it did seem more than a coincidence that on the day that we absolutely had to get to Dad’s would-be constituency, there seemed to be no way of getting there.

None of us was qualified to know whether there was anything truly wrong with the plane we were using but we had to accept that, to all our intents and purposes, it was out of commission. As always, Dad remained calm while the rest of us paced anxiously about the room, making phone calls and discussing alternatives for transport.

We did know several people with their own private planes but either they were unavailable, or it would take too long to get one ready. Flying commercial was an option with Subang Airport right next door but as it was the beginning of the weekend, flights to the holiday island were full, and none would have gotten us there on time. As the afternoon wore on, we were running out of options.

Last-minute replacement

At a time when Dad was persona non grata in the country, friendships are tested by situations like this. As she listened to all our worried discussions, my sister-in-law Mastisa, who was also scheduled to fly with Mum and Dad to Langkawi, looked up and saw a friend who happened to walk into the waiting lounge just then. A wealthy businessman, he was about to fly to Singapore on his own jet, a jet that was sitting on the tarmac ready and waiting to take off.

Mastisa leapt up and went to talk to him. She explained the situation, our urgent need to get to Langkawi that afternoon and our plane troubles. Listening to her and looking around and seeing Mum and Dad quietly waiting, he did not hesitate. “Take my plane,” he said, “I can go later.”

There were no words for our gratitude just then. The pilot of the friend’s plane still had to file a new flight plan but at least he and the crew were ready. Within an hour or so, we were all seated and buckled in. I was still tense from the drama of the almost cancelled trip.

Dad, on the other hand, dressed in a red shirt with the Bersatu stylised hibiscus logo embroidered on his left breast, his name beneath the Malaysian flag on his right, fell asleep immediately, as was his habit on any flight.

As we flew the one hour or so north to Langkawi, we did not know that there was more drama in the cockpit. Our pilot was being denied permission to land in Langkawi and ordered to divert to Penang instead, a clear attempt to delay us even more. My parents, my sister-in-law and I, exhausted from the drama before take-off were oblivious to what was going on. Only later, after we had landed safely in Langkawi, to be greeted by Dad’s relieved staff and supporters, were we told what happened.

I really don’t know how it was resolved unless someone with a cool head and a conscience decided to ignore whoever issued the diversion order. Still the entire episode sent chills down my spine, the first time in my life that I had felt unsafe within my own country, knowing there were possible attempts to jeopardise my family’s safety.

Good news greeted us upon landing. One of Dad’s people had negotiated with the EC office to stay open late to cater to our delayed arrival.

This is an excerpt from Marina Mahathir’s latest book, ‘The Apple and the Tree’. It is published with the permission of Penguin Random House SEA. The book is available at Popular, MPH, Kino, Czip Lee, Biblio Paper Boy, Lit Books, Gerak Budaya.


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