Family honoured plane dedicated to late mother

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Capital A Executive Chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun (left) chats with Zuhan (second from left) and Zudevi (right) about the model airplane that was gifted to the family.

KOTA KINABALU (Dec 4): AirAsia’s special tribute livery dedicated to the late Datuk Irene Benggon Charuruks is a tribute to the ‘iron lady’ of Sabah’s tourism industry.

The former General Manager of Sabah Tourism Board is the state’s tourism industry’s icon and was instrumental in shaping as well as promoting Sabah’s attractions to the world.

Two of her children, Zudevi and Zuhun Charuruks as well as their family members were at the unveiling ceremony here on Monday.

Zudevi in her speech said that their father was not well while their sibling Zurani and her family were in Perth.

“They are here in spirit with us here today. Going back to more than two years ago, it was a surprise for the family when Tan Sri Tony dedicated the plane to Ma. During Covid, the hardest time for the travel industry, Tan Sri, you did not hesitate to dedicate a plane to our late Ma, we were very touched when you sent out the video,” she said.

In a tear-choked voice, Zudevi continued, “Today seeing her name on the plane makes it all so real, it is wonderful. This is a very fitting tribute to Ma to keep her memory alive. Datuk Irene Benggon Charuruks … She loved Sabah so much and here we are today, this plane will fly out of Sabah and carry travellers back home.”

Meanwhile, Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai who was also present at the unveiling ceremony, said that Sabah’s rich heritage, vibrant culture and renowned festivals have gained global admiration mainly due to the late Datuk Irene’s 25 years of dedicated hard work.

“I am deeply honoured to have crossed paths with Datuk Irene during my time as a journalist, ultimately leading to the privilege of working alongside here when I assumed the role of STB chairman in 2013,” Joniston said.

He added that her encouragement and understanding paved the way for positive growth in rural community based tourism.

“Datuk Irene has left an indelible mark, set a benchmark, not just for achievements but for values, ensuring continuity, stability and clear expectations for future tourism leaders,” he said.

Joniston said they are grateful to AirAsia for recognising and honouring Irene in the momentous tribute which resonates deeply as it aligns with her passion for air accessibility, allowing travellers to experience the Sabah she loved.