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‘Gaping hole’ that saved eight lives

May 22: When the burning aircraft cracked open moments after touchdown, it provided an escape route for eight passengers who jumped out though the “gaping hole” to save themselves.

Some, like G.K. Pradeep, then jumped again into a pit as the Boeing 737-800 turned into a “ball of fire”.

Among the fortunate eight, who include a woman medical intern, was Ummer Farook Mohammed, a 26-year-old Mangalorean driver who was actually cursing his luck while boarding the flight. He had gone to Dubai to find a job but was returning empty-handed.

Three hours later, he still couldn’t believe how lucky he had been.

“While so many sitting around me were charred to death, here I am talking before TV cameras,” said Farook, his face smothered in white cooling cream and his burnt arms and legs bandaged.

He recalled the last minutes of the flight: “The tyre burst as soon as the plane landed and the aircraft went towards the forest. Within seconds, there was a blast and the plane was filled with smoke and there was complete chaos. A part of the plane had broken apart and through that gap and smoke I could see the trees. I jumped out from there.”

Farook vaguely remembers pushing aside someone who was blocking the way. Asked if the other person had managed to escape, he pursed his lips and said: “I don’t know.”

He had walked in a daze on the rocky terrain for about 30 minutes before some people spotted him, took him some of the way to the hospital on a motorcycle and then put him in an auto-rickshaw.

Mangalorean Joel Pratap D’Souza not only survived the crash but has also found a job in Dubai as a mechanical supervisor.

“I was waiting at the airport to pick him up when I heard a loud sound. Soon, everyone was screaming the plane had crashed,” said his cousin Santosh Sequera.

“Since the airport officials doubted anyone would survive the crash and the fire, I was expecting the worse. But around 9am I got a call and heard Joel’s voice at the other side. I could not control my tears.”

Santosh said Joel had broken his right foot and strained his spine. “The doctors have assured him he can fly to Dubai in a week to take up his new job.”

Most of the survivors had minor injuries except the lone woman among them, Sabrina Nasrinhuq. The 23-year-old, Bangladesh-born intern from Manipal Medical College has had her broken leg operated on. She is a citizen of the UAE, where her family lives.

Putturismail Abdulla, 32, a shop manager from Dubai who only needed first aid, remembers a co-passenger “fall into the fire” while trying to escape through the “hole”. It didn’t deter him.

He said that as soon as he heard the “deafening” tyre burst “I somehow gathered my wits and removed my seatbelt. I peeped out and saw the right wing, which was scraping the ground, had caught fire. When I looked up I saw a gaping hole. Somehow, I climbed up the seat and jumped out through the hole… straight into a thorny bush.

“I walked for about 20 minutes through the jungle, unmindful of the gashes on my legs and arms. Some locals then made me sit and gave me water. I contacted my brother who was already on his way to receive me and reached the hospital with his help.”

K.P. Mayankutty thought the plane had hit “something like a building” after touchdown.

Krishnan Koolikunnu said it probably hit a tree before bursting into flames. Krishnan is recovering and had lunch in hospital just hours after the crash.


Lucky eight

The survivors of the air crash

  • Ummer Farook Mohammed
  • Joel Pratap D’Souza
  • Krishnan Koolikunnu
  • G.K. Pradeep
  • Sabrina Nasrinhuq
  • K.P. Mayankutty
  • Putturismail Abdulla
  • Mohammed Usman
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