Grim tragedies create real heroes….

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May is the month, when the lilacs are in bloom. It is also the time to forget yourself, but not those who die in tragic mishaps.

By Nazarul Islam

When a gruesome tragedy happens, its impact can be felt in a variety of ways. Often these effects make us pause and wonder why we feel so sad about people we don’t know or — although they happen daily — why accidents are so upsetting. Given yesterday’s PIA crash that tragically killed around hundred  adults and children, many of us have confronted these complicated feelings — in some form or another — and will continue to overwhelm us over the next several days.

We have just witnessed the final moments of another air crash, with fatalities. A PIA Flight PK8303, approaching Jinnah International Airport, Karachi at about 14:30 local time (09:30 GMT)—had been given permission to land; but the pilots decided to abort and go around for a second attempt.

The reason is not yet known, but one civil aviation official reportedly, had told Reuters the plane may have been unable to lower its undercarriage. Images posted on social media appeared to show scorch marks under both engines, with no undercarriage visible on approach.

May is the month, when the lilacs are in bloom. It is also the time to forget yourself, but not those who die in tragic mishaps.

Flashback to the year 1965 – I was a school kid in Dhaka, taking my terminal exams on the fateful day of May 20, 1965. News had flashed that PIA’s inaugural flight 705, a Boeing 720 B aircraft//carrying 128 journalists, guests and crew members had crashed in the outskirts of Cairo airport.

The fatal flight had also turned around the fortunes of Jalal Al Karimi, an airline station Manager, and a Gregorian.

Fast forward to May 22, 2020. There has been another grave air tragedy, fatal and gruesome, as PIA flight 8303 approached the Jinnah International Airport , Karachi at about 14:30 local time (09:30 GMT). It had been given permission to land but the pilots decided to abort and go around for a second attempt.

Purported audio of the conversation between air traffic control and a pilot for the second attempt was published by Pakistani media outlets, in which the pilot is heard saying the plane has “lost engines”. An air traffic controller asks whether it is going to carry out a “belly landing”, to which the pilot replies “mayday- mayday- mayday” – the final communication from the plane.

Investigators will try to retrieve the so-called black box recorders to help determine the cause. A committee of investigation has already been set up.

Talha Akhtar, my nephew who has pursued studies in aviation, and currently lives in Toronto—texted me to say: The aircraft had stalled, after engine failure.

And now, back again to Cairo crash. One of the lucky survivors had been a Karachi based travel Executive Shaukat Mecklai—who was highly respected in the aviation industry. He recalled: “We had put on our hats and collected the cabin luggage as the plane took one circle around Cairo Airport before being cleared for landing for runway 34 when it crashed on the ground short of the runway.“

His voice choked as he went on to state: “I remember seeing the right wing on fire before I blacked out. I was still semiconscious when I opened my eyes again and didn’t realize that I was screaming out my own name ‘Shaukat! Shaukat!’, instead of calling for help.

Another passenger, a young man himself bleeding from the head, came to my rescue. I was badly hurt but he pulled me out of the wreck. There were dead bodies and luggage lying all around us. I saw my wife’s lifeless form among them. My eyes saw but there was no reaction. Still in a state of shock, a film of my life went through my mind, of my childhood and all the things I had seen and done in life and those things, too, that I had put off to do later. Thinking my life would soon be over, I thought of God and said that if He gave me another chance to live, I would do everything with the thought of there being no tomorrow, and that I would devote myself to serve others less fortunate than myself,” Mecklai shares.

Suddenly both of them saw a lot of people come towards them. The passenger pulling out survivors from the burning plane ran to them and said “Allah-o-Akbar” but they were not really there for help. All they did was pick up the luggage and walk off. By the time help came, some five to six hours after the accident, many victims who had been groaning from pain earlier had already died. The authorities seemed ill-equipped to handle such a big disaster. The rescue helicopter didn’t even have a stretcher.

As a parent, or as a close friend, this particular incident provokes difficult feelings due to its relatability. While most of us don’t commute by helicopter — families bike, walk, or take public transportation to a variety of their children’s events. Many of us can relate to being a parent taking their child to a sporting event, and the thought that in an instant life could forever be changed, is extremely unsettling. This horrific accident was a reminder that it can happen to any of us, no matter our level of gentlemanliness!

Many of us wonder why we feel sad when we aren’t personally acquainted with those who died. In this case — where the circumstance involved parents, their children, and a high-profile athlete — there are multiple reasons to feel such grief and sorrow.

First, the accident is heartbreaking and it’s human to empathize with the loved ones of the victims who lost parents, siblings, partners, and friends, and secondly, beyond the relatability of the parents and children traveling to a sporting event. Onlookers have a unique experience of feeling as if we do know the deceased in a certain way, as he has been part of the fabric of our lives for many years.

Deaths can stir up feelings of sadness and grief for many people — it’s actually normal and to be expected. While it may at first seem confusing to feel grief about the death of someone you don’t know, it’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever feelings come up and to acknowledge the sadness and grief. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. These feelings are generally like waves; they come up, you ride them out, and then they pass.

While we may not relate to flying in an unfortunate aircraft, we do relate and empathize with the victims and loved ones impacted.

Finally, let me reveal a little secret: The gentleman who had pulled Mecklai out of the plane wreck, along with six other survivors—on that fateful day, 55 years ago, is a familiar face at all the big and happy events. He is a former Gregorian, who graduated school in 1959.The bond shared by the both men has made them very good friends despite the difference in their ages.

Grief is a very personal process, handled in a variety of ways. Some need time to themselves and turn inward while grieving.

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The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist and lives in USA. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.  

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