Pilot who died in crash in Cairns was a former prisoner in Merauke

The pilot who died in Cairns on Saturday 11 am was one of the five Australians who were detained in Merauke, West Papua, in 2008, for entering West Papua without a visa. William Scott-Bloxam and his passenger died after their 44 Angel twin-otter crash in a cornfield in Cairns at 11 am Saturday. From the Daily Mail:

Witnesses reported hearing the 44 Angel twin-engine plane struggling before hitting the cornfield close to Mareeba Airport.

Dubbed the “Merauke Five” – 5 Australians detained and jailed for landing in Merauke

The Merauke 5

In 2008, Mr.  Scott-Bloxam piloted four others including his wife to the southernmost West Papuan City of Merauke. According to the pilot, air-traffic in Merauke lured them in by telling them they could only get fines if they landed in Merauke without a visa. Instead, the five Australians were jailed for nine months in a “rat-infested” prison in Merauke.

Mr Scott-Bloxam was one of five Queenslanders, along with his wife Vera, who were detained in Merauke in the Indonesian province of West Papua in September 2008 after landing in the country without a visa.

The five, who had been piloted by Mr Scott-Bloxam in another light plane, were told by air traffic controllers they would get away with a fine upon arrival.

The group were instead jailed and spent nine months in prison – despite a High Court overruling the decision to imprison them – before being released in June 2009.

Daily Mail

After nine months of negotiations, the Indonesian government finally let them go, but was their incarceration justified? There was no proper explanation given for the length of time these innocent people spent in prison, and the Howard government said little about about the issue publicly.

Australia and Indonesia Security Agreement

Were these Australians held against their will as bargaining chips for the Indonesian government? It was highly likely.

In 2006, two years prior to this incident, the Australian government took in 43 West Papuans who escaped West Papua on a homemade boat to Australia. The group was led by Herman Wainggai, the founder of West Papuan Human Rights Center. These brave West Papuans left Merauke for Australia in the middle of the night on Christmas eve. They drifted for three nights and three days until they were rescued at Mapoon area in the Northern Territory by the Australian Navy.  They were taken to Christmas Island where they were held for months until the Australian government granted them protection visas, sparking diplomatic row between the two countries.

In response to the Australian decisions, the Indonesian government recalled its ambassador to Australia and accused Australia of protecting criminal fugitives. Between 2006 and 2008, representatives of the two countries met and debated their differences. After lengthy negotiations, the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation on areas of international security and mutual respects for their territorial integrity. The two countries signed their mutual security pact known as the Lombok treaty

We believe that the Five Australians were simply caught up in this international mess, and may have been held against their will by the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government government as bargaining chips in their negotiations with the Australian government. The negotiations between the two countries began in 2006 and the Lombok was signed and ratified by the Australian government in 2008.

Our condolences to Mr.  Scott-Bloxam’s family and friends in Australia. May the souls of these two men rest in peace. 

Jaytee – Admin WPHRC,  Washington, DC