ONE YEAR AGO TODAY..... how often this thought has crossed my mind in the last few weeks. Frank and I had great experiences and met wonderful people.
16th February, one year ago today...
Frank called me at 13:30: „Everything is sorted, GOMMI is refuelled, everything has been checked and at 03:00 the taxi will come to pick me up. I love you, will call you after landing in Dakar.“ As usual, I wished him a good flight and I did not forget the „fly carefully!“ either.
Following an unsettled night I decided on an early 07:00 round of golf – my concentration was not great because I kept looking at the sky thinking about Frank. After the round of golf we were sitting outside the Club House and my friends were very interested in Frank: „What does the rescue raft look like?“.
We had invested in the latest technology prior to this trip. The raft was tied around the waist like a corsett, then inflated once in the water – where it looked a bit like a sleeping bag, even with a protective shield for the waves. It was macabre, but I even joked about a swimming coffin – little did I know that this was already the correct comparison at the time.
At that moment Ivan came from the Pro-Shop: „You must ring your daughter immediately, a signal has gone off“. My knees went soft, I was sure, Frank is in the water. Almost paralysed with worry I drove home and got the facts from Malaika and Silke. The emergency locator in GOMMI had raised the alarm in England. The reassuring message was „sometimes that happens, it is not necessarily serious“. This hope was soon taken from me, as Frank’s supermodern GPS also sent an emergency signal. The telephone lines went hot – eventually we knew about the emergency landing off the coast of Fernando de Noronha. Two search-and-rescue aeroplanes and boats were sent out. Another telephone call – the pilots have sighted a life raft, but there is no sign of life. Can one give „signals“ from this type of life raft? I was not sure.
By now it was 16:00, our Dutch friends Ank and Adam had arrived. The waiting was awful. At 18:00 Elke and Peter came to pick me up for a concert we had planned to go to... We all waited and hoped.
At about 19:00 we got a call from Search and Rescue in Münster/Germany. A nice sounding man said: „Mrs Hettlich, we have researched you and your family on the internet. You are an exceptional family with a great husband and father – I am pleased to be able to tell you that your husband is alive, he has breathing problems, he is being transported to the Island’s hospital and in a few days you’ll have him back. We are rejoicing with you and your family“.
The joy in South Africa was enormous. The champagne was flowing – we were so relieved. Briefly I wondered about going to the concert after all! My friends then went home.
Claudia was on-call in Blackpool that day. As to not jeopardise her journey home, I had only spoken to Robin. Great, we had saved Claudia unnecessary worry.
But the day was not over yet. Half an hour later Malaika was on the phone. I could barely understand her. She had the most difficult task of her life to fulfill when she had to tell me: „Mutti,... Papa is dead.“
I will never forget her voice. Our family – Malaika, Bianca, Claudia and myself, we had lost our strongest family member. The grief and pain were immeasurable. Robin had the difficult task to tell Claudia, I called Bianca. I was alone in South Africa. Malaika took 24 hours and Bianca 48 hours to come. That night I cleaned all the windows – the ruins of my life in front of me.
But from the ruins new things can be built. Malaika and Bianca came, my friends in South Africa were wonderful (I will never forget that!). Claudia and Robin took care of all the organising and the formalities from England. When the family travelled to Brazil to bring Frank home, Steve and Peggy invited me to their beach house. I was a bit worried, how would the sight of the Ocean affect me? We were sitting outside late at night and all of a sudden the Ocean started to glimmer – as if millions of candles had been lit. Steve took my hand and quietly said: „These candles are all burning for Frank“. I made my peace with the Ocean then.
A very special thank you goes to Robin. He, together with Norton, identified Frank for us in Brazil. I am very glad about this, because otherwise I would always believe that he will come back one day. Bianca, Malaika and myself saw a plane just like Gommi fly over the Helderberg, it was circling just like Frank used to and when we waved it wobbled its wings for us. Thanks to Robin we knew that it was only a salute from Frank, but not Frank himself.
Today – one year later – the ruins have been rebuilt. Frank has not gone, he is in the room next door – we talk to him and he helps us. We learned from him to live a positive life – we have a wealth of memories, he showed us this world and we are very happy about the long and good years we had together. His family lives on, we are happy again – although we miss him very much.
On Friday, 16th February 2007, I, Dorise Hettlich was given a second life. Frank’s last thoughts will have been: „Dorise is with the children....“ I will use this second life to enjoy everything, especially Frank’s legacy: Claudia and Robin, Bianca and Malaika.
These photos are from Frank’s camera (which he always carried with him). It was his last sunrise.
Frank shortly before departure in Natal, Brasil
The last photograph