Sarawakian navy officer Joanna’s unfulfilled promise: A Gawai Dayak homecoming that wasn’t meant to be

Johny shows a photo of him and Joanna when she last returned home during Gawai last year.

By Karen Bong and Wilfred Pilo

SERIAN, April 24: Johny Mayi, uncle of the late navy personnel Joanna Felicia Rohna who was among 10 casualties in yesterday’s tragic Lumut helicopter crash, recalled the “strange” call he received from his niece last Wednesday, informing him of her intention to return home for the upcoming Gawai Dayak holiday—a promise that she would not be able to keep.

Johny, 56 and currently self-employed, remarked that Joanna typically returned to the village without prior notice.

“Come to think of it now, I think it is odd that she felt the need to inform me. This was her home, her village; she always came back whenever she pleased,” he told DayakDaily, speaking from their home adjacent to Joanna’s grandparents’ residence in Kampung Sumpas here.

The tight-knit family together with other relatives, friends and villagers have gathered in solemnity, preparing to journey to Joanna’s husband’s home in Kampung Engkeroh, along Jalan Mongkos, Tebakang, where her remains are expected to arrive from Kuala Lumpur tonight (April 24).

Last year, Joanna, alongside her husband who is also in the navy and their two young children, celebrated Gawai at home but had yet to return this year.

Johny’s cherished photo of him and Joanna during their Gawai Dayak gathering last year.

Johny is still shocked over Joanna’s sudden passing, learning of it yesterday morning (April 23) from her father. He described it as “unbelievable,” especially coming just after they had attended another relative’s funeral in the village. Joanna’s father was too distraught to eat lunch upon hearing the tragic news.

“When we first heard, the news wasn’t confirmed, and we were too afraid to watch the circulating video (of the helicopter crash). It was devastating, but we prayed hard that she wasn’t on the aircraft. But God had other plans and loves her more,” Johny said.

Joanna’s husband had initially objected to her participation in the aircraft parade, but Johny said she insisted on being part of the airshow which was scheduled as part of the Navy Day celebration in May as valuable experience in her service. The celebration was cancelled following the tragic helicopter crash.

Grateful for his cherished niece, Johny painted a picture of Joanna as a carefree soul who embraced life with smile and laughter. Sociable and well-known in the village, she was also a resilient athlete during her school years.

“She was considerate, the eldest of five siblings. Knowing the family’s financial struggles, she wanted to work after completing secondary school, but realising the hardships, including for her grandparents, she chose to join the navy,” he explained.

Interestingly, Joanna wasn’t the sole naval officer in the family; her aunt, Johny’s sister, also served as a female officer, possibly influencing her decision.

“My sister may have inspired her to join. We’re immensely proud of her,” he said with a heavy heart, his voice tinged with sadness, still grappling with the harsh reality of his niece’s untimely demise.

Johny (left) along with other relatives including his son Adrian (second left) and a cousin holding Joanna’s photo as they grieve her untimely passing.

Joanna, an Able Seaman with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), had been stationed at the Lumut navy base in Perak since her graduation in 2016.

Her grieving grandparents, family, friends, and the village community gathered at her husband’s home in Kampung Engkeroh are awaiting awaited Joanna’s return with heavy hearts. Her remains are expected to be laid to rest in the village cemetery tomorrow morning, her promise of a Gawai homecoming unfulfilled. — DayakDaily