As Qantas nears its 100th birthday, we celebrate the people who help make it the spirit of Australia. This month: Chantal Doecke, rescued from Saigon as part of Operation Babylift after the Vietnam War, talks about the flight that changed her life.
“I arrived in Australia in a shoebox placed on a seat of a Qantas flight from Saigon on 5 April 1975. I was only a few days old – I still had my umbilical cord attached – and a card was pinned to me with a name and date of birth, which was actually incorrect. I was called Le Thi Ha and was born premature so they didn’t expect me to survive the flight. But I did.
There were 3000 babies evacuated from Vietnam as part of the mercy operation and we were adopted out all over the world; I grew up in Adelaide.
Chantal Doecke’s travel “card” and papers collected over the years
There have been several reunions over the years and some of us have bonded over our unique start to life. I have friends from America, Sweden, Germany – we all look Vietnamese but speak with different accents. It’s a strange bond that’s hard to quantify.
I have four children and a granddaughter, Aaliyah, who I adore. When my eldest daughter, Jade, was born I looked at her and saw similar features and thought how wonderful it was that I’ve got my own bloodline now. We live next door to each other by the beach in Adelaide.
My kids laugh about my obsession with Vietnam but they understand. I took my son, Jordan, back to Saigon for the 40th reunion of Operation Babylift and he loved the country.
I have a tattoo of the flight details on my bicep. It reads, ‘QF180: Le Thi Ha, Operation Babylift’, with the old Vietnamese flag. I like to joke that the ink makes me a marked woman but it’s a permanent reminder to never forget where I came from.”
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