Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Falklands mission - 10th anniversary

At the Brisbane international airport
At Mt Pleasant intl airport, Falkland Islands

Ten years ago this month, I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life. The mission was to escort a relief effort to a stranded sailor in the Falkand Islands. Now, believe it or not, I was
not the first choice for this assignment as the campaign and attempt for a local guy to sail around the world solo
on an East-West-East route came under heavy fire.My colleagues were highly critical about the issue. There was a conversation within the then literary editor with a
feature writer about sending a relief party to the Falklands."But he had failed. I don't see why we should send anyone," said the Editor. "Yeah, anyone whom the company
would despatch to the scene, is a moron," chimed the writer.I turned around and watched them with disgust and some amusement. To me, they can kiss my ass because the
said moron for the mission was me.Earlier, I asked the Assistant Group Editor: "Eh Pak Non, if there's anyone for this mission, who would it be?".
"What kind of question is this lah! Who else but you?," he said.I was in my fourth year as a reporter and after being booted out to an afternoon daily, it was the lowest point in
my life. Nevertheless, my stint in tabloid was one of the best training ground. I was left to my own device and since I had
interviewed the sailor and actually sailed with him from Port Klang to Langkawi, I knew everything about him by
hanging around with the guy for more than 72hours.But as his attempt to sail around the world became an official national project, other guys were roped in to tie up
the loose ends.Again, I was sidelined. To me, I need to commit for a couple of years before my training bond expires. The first
few years of my life as a reporter didn't seem to take off. With me in the rear packed with the gear, I sat and watch as the sailor was given a send-off by Tun Mahathir, the
fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia.Then, barely two days after the hoo-hahs, I was approached by the Chief News Editor of the nation's oldest
newspaper to mop up."Sam, you must file in a story everyday," he said. That was the standing instruction. So, I cut a deal with him. I told
him that for every take I send in, its one shift on the overtime form.With a smirk, he shook my hand and our arrangement was firm. So, everyday, I fetch the sailor's position report
and write a story based on his progress - which was slow and boring.To make up for the space, I ran a series of background stories and my experience on his ocean racer proved to
be an advantage.I know everything there is to provide a daily report and with my overtime sheet coming from both ends (the
broadsheet and afternoon paper), I was minting money.All of the sudden, I acquired a small fortune. Hence, the knives and other toys that came in as the loot. Then, all of
the sudden, my side income came to a screeching halt.The sailor's vessel capsized and was towed to the Falklands. There, he awaited for help and some relief. I
learned that after speaking to him, his intention was to moor his boat in a place where folks speak English.That was highly logical. And so, efforts were made to aid the sailor who agreed, after consulting with the Prime
Minister to continue his attempt.When the word 'Falklands' was mentioned, some of the superstars from the paper's news section had sprung
into action.Some guys even lobbied for the mission. But the man who trusted me to discarge my duties was firm. He
insisted that I was the most qualified candidate to cover the story.So, on one Saturday morning, I received a call from the office. "Sam, get your Australian visa ready, you are
going to the Falklands..."I had just a couple of hours to prepare for the flight from Subang military airbase. With an advance allowance of
USD$5,000 and my kit, I made my way to the briefing area on the departure area.My journey to the Falklands begins..

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