GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia – An Australian helicopter on a relief mission crashed Saturday on earthquake-devastated Nias Island, killing nine people on board, while workers searching for quake victims rescued a man who survived for nearly five days pinned under a mountain of rubble.
Earthquake survivors on Nias, a majority Christian island in Muslim Indonesia, prayed both for the death of Pope John Paul II and for those who died in Monday’s 8.7-magnitude earthquake.
Just before the service was scheduled to begin, a 5.6-magnitude aftershock hit the area, sending worshippers scurrying outside where the prayers were eventually held. A second aftershock of magnitude 5 hit the area about two hours later, officials said.
Also Saturday, aid finally reached thousands of homeless and hungry victims on remote islands still reeling from the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster.
Tens of thousands have been made homeless and at least 548 were killed by Monday’s quake, which devastated Nias, Banyak and Simeulue islands off the coast of Sumatra.
Officials said 514 of the deaths occurred on Nias, and another 100 bodies could be buried under the rubble. Miraculously, one man survived without water or food for nearly five days before his cries for help were heard Saturday by laborers who alerted Singaporean and Indonesian rescue teams.
“The man was saying ‘help, help, give me water,’ ” said Satria, an Indonesian military officer, who uses only one name. The recovered man, who goes by the name Hendra, said that he lost his wife and two daughters, ages 11 and 9, in the quake.
He said he could hear his elder daughter, trapped in another part of the wrecked building, asking for water and food. At one point she begged to even drink his urine, said Hendra. He said he told his daughter to have faith in Jesus Christ before her cries faded away.
The good news of Hendra’s survival was tempered by tragedy in the Australian relief mission.
An Australian navy Sea King helicopter ferrying an emergency medical team to a remote village on Nias crashed Saturday near the island’s capital, Gunung Sitoli, killing nine of the 11 personnel aboard, the Australian Associated Press reported.
The news agency has a reporter on board an Australian hospital ship, HMAS Kanimbla, to which the crashed helicopter belonged. The Australian military confirmed the crash but did not report the casualties.