On this day in 2004, Singapore Airlines flight 946 landed at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport at 19:10. On board were 167 passengers, 46 of which were a tour group of Nippon Bali Tours. At this time, the airport was undergoing one of its renovations, with a detour from the disembarkation bridge to the immigration hall.
The tour group assembled by the bridge doors with their greeting guide and started off after the other passengers.
They were never seen again.
Afterward, several of other passengers would recount a strange and seemingly endless trek down stairs and up stairs and across plywood corridors. Mr. Hiroshi Takayama, a mountaineer who had conquered Everest, said, “After half an hour, it was clear to me that we were going in endless circles, but I never could identify a same location.” Mrs. Evelyn Batista, of the Philippines, said, “My goodness, we walked and walked and walked. Children started crying. Couples started fighting. Some passengers just sat down for a rest and refused to budge.” Mr. Richard Lewis, author of various novels, said, “Several times we passed departure lounges, people behind the thick glass staring at us like we were half-seen specters. It was really bizarre, dude.”
Finally, though, an airport official with a name tag of Ida Bagus Gusti Bagus and a gleaming gold tooth appeared and ushered the weary passengers through a makeshift door in a brick wall and into the Immigration Hall. “It was,” said one passenger who wished to remain anonymous, “like arriving in the Promised Land after forty years of wandering, except we now had to queue at the one single Immigration counter that was open. Make that forty years and two hours.”
When reporters later attempted to interview IB Gusti Bagus, the bemused airport authorities said no one of that name was employed in any capacity.
And the Nippon Bali tour group? Richard Lewis says that at the bottom of the first flight of stairs, the tour guide was shepherding them left instead of right, which was the direction of the disembarkation arrow.
Had the guide promised them a short cut? To this day, no one knows. Departing passengers at the departure lounges have several times reported seeing a group of silent, middle-aged Japanese quietly shuffling by beyond the glass plate windows, looking wan and forlorn, apparently lost in an eternal search for the Ngurah Rai International Airport Immigration Hall.