As Qantas nears its 100th birthday, we celebrate the people who help make it the spirit of Australia. This month: On Board Manager Irene Fong on the flight she’ll never forget.
“I began my career at Qantas when we offered cigarettes as part of the meal service and inflight entertainment was projected onto giant screens.
I’ve worn five different uniform designs and served scores of celebrities but the flights that stand out for me are the ones where Qantas has come to the aid of Australians in trouble. The 2002 Bali bombing has particular resonance.
I was on leave when news of the bombings broke. The next day, Qantas called for volunteers on a rescue flight. I didn’t hesitate.
Image credit: Irene Fong, centre, with her colleagues.
On board were medics, forensics officers and loved ones of the victims, along with a crew of 13. After takeoff, the cabin was eerily silent. Throughout the flight, people just looked out the window. Some were holding hands. In the front row there was an elderly couple who had lost their only son. It was heartbreaking.
"We're here, we're going to get you on board and take you home."
Landing in Denpasar, the door opened to a battle zone: some people with their arms in slings and others covered in bandages. I kept saying, ‘We’re here, we’re going to get you on board and take you home.’
A girl who had lost her brother couldn’t physically get on the plane. She stood holding his picture, frozen in grief. One of my colleagues came over and gave her a big hug and gently manoeuvred her onto the aircraft while still embracing her. It was overwhelming.
I’ll always remember the rescue flight as my most difficult but it’s the one that made me most proud – knowing that in times of need, Qantas is first on the scene. Our crew didn’t do it for the accolades; it’s just what we do. What I love about getting on the flight every day is working with people from different backgrounds, cultures, age groups and work experience. Once the uniform is on, we’re all Qantas crew.”
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