Dubai: A mother of two, who lost her unborn child and a leg after the Air India Express Dubai-Kozhikode plane crash on August 7, is still in a hospital in the south Indian state of Kerala.
Thajina K.P Para, 32, and her children – 11-year-old son Muhammed Hisham, and seven-year-old daughter Hadiya - are among the survivors who are yet to get back to normal life even four months after the COVID-19 special repatriation flight from the UAE crashed on that rainy night.
Thajina’s husband Abdul Rasheed, 36, got back to his workplace in Dubai a few weeks ago after caring for his wife in three different hospitals since the time he reached Kerala the day after the plane accident.
Abdul Rasheed, an accountant with a chick feeds manufacturing company, shared the untold plight of his wife and children in a phone interview to Gulf News.
He said he had brought his family on a visit when the children’s school vacation started in Kerala in March.
“I rescheduled their tickets from March 18 to 11 after getting wind of flight suspensions. My company was generous enough to allot a villa for family accommodation. Then I thought of taking residence visas for them. But, by then corona had hit hard and nothing could be done,” recollected Abdul Rasheed.
Thajina was four months pregnant with their third child when she boarded the flight IX1344 which was repatriating Indians stranded in the UAE due to COVID-19 under India’s Vande Bharat Mission
He said their return on the ill-fated flight happened because they decided to exit the country before the initial deadline of August 10 for expired visit visa holders.
Thajina was four months pregnant with their third child when she boarded the flight IX1344 which was repatriating Indians stranded in the UAE due to COVID-19 under India’s Vande Bharat Mission.
“They were seated on 6D, E and F,” said Abdul Rasheed.
It was around that part of the fuselage that the aircraft split into two after the flight overshot the tabletop runway and plunged about 35ft down into a gorge in inclement weather conditions.
Thajina and children had lost consciousness and could not recollect anything related to the crash, said Abdul Rasheed.
“It’s a big blessing. Doctors have also told them not to try to recollect the tragedy.”
Miscarriage and amputation
However, Thajina had sustained multiple injuries, on the legs and head and she suffered a miscarriage while being operated on during an emergency surgery to fix a thigh fracture, said Abdul Rasheed. That was just the beginning of a series of surgeries that she underwent. Abdul Rasheed said he cannot remember exactly how many she has undergone so far.
“In the first hospital in Kerala, she went through a couple of surgeries every week. Around 10 surgeries were done there itself,” he said.
Thajina was later shifted to another hospital in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu which is a tertiary care center for spinal disorder and orthopaedic surgeries.
“After the second opinion also confirmed that her left leg had to be amputated below the knee, that surgery was done on September 5,” said Abdul Rasheed.
However, the hopes to use a below knee prosthesis in the near future were, however, had dimmed very soon.
An infection developed around the amputated area due to some foreign particles that crept deeper inside the upper leg due to the impact of the crash, said Abdul Rasheed.
She has been a strong woman ... But, there have been times when she just lost it. She has also suffered phantom pain after the amputation.
Hence, Thajina had to undergo a couple of more surgeries to remove and wash out the crushed foreign particles that had affected the bones.
Hospitalisation due to infection
Thajina was discharged from that hospital on October 31. But, she had to be admitted again in another hospital in Kerala on November 5 due to the infection that worsened after reaching home. She had to undergo one more surgery there.
It is likely to be a long road to recovery for Thajina as doctors have suggested her leg has to be amputated further up from the thigh where she had suffered a fracture.
“There is inflammation and discharge coming out of her knee even now. It has come down, but that needs to be stopped completely. She says sometimes it is painful from inside. She is no longer on painkillers but she is still on antibiotics. We need to think about the next surgery soon. She will have to get one more plastic surgery and bone grafting done. I don’t know how many more surgeries would be needed to remove the three steel rods below her right knee and two rods above both the knees,” said Abdul Rasheed.
Apart from the professional counselling services given by a psychiatrist in the initial days after the crash, the big mental support to wade through the crisis was offered to Thajina by none other than her better half.
“She has been a strong woman. I have tried my best to keep her stronger after the crash. She has accepted the reality. But, there have been times when she just lost it. She has also suffered phantom pain [painful sensations that seem to be coming from the part of the limb that is no longer there] after the amputation. All that is quite natural. We are trying to face everything one step at a time. I am just so grateful that I got my wife and children back alive,” said Abdul Rasheed.
He said Thajina’s elder sister has been taking care of her in the hospital after he returned to Dubai to resume work.
Children also suffering
While their mother has been away in the hospital for longer than themselves, Thajina’s children are now slowly recovering at home under the care of Abdul Rasheed’s parents. Air India Express has supported the family with the appointment of a home nurse to take care of them.
Little Hadiya had suffered fractures on both legs [in the thigh on one leg and below the knee on the other]. Like her brother, she had head injury and fractures on hands also.
Though Hadiya has got her plasters removed and has got back on her feet again last week, Abdul Rasheed said, it would take three more years to remove the steel rods inserted in her legs.
“Since she is small, her recovery has been faster. But, my son is still struggling to even use a walker. His bones on both legs had come out. He had a head injury also. Due to the blood clotting, he suffered fits twice while in the hospital. Doctors said it is likely that he might develop epilepsy in the future also. It is a big concern for us now.”
The family is now sharing their moments of happiness and sorrow from three locations via daily video calls. “Every day after work I spend a lot of time talking to my wife and children on video call. My wish is to bring them back here as soon as possible so that I can take care of them personally and we can avoid anyone discussing matters related to the crash with them,” said Abdul Rasheed.
After facing such extremities of mental and physical pain, he said, Thajina is also waiting to take a flight back to Dubai to be with her husband.
Fateful night: How did the crash happen?
Heavy rains and winds lashed the Air India Express Dubai-Kozhikode flight IX1344 before the special COVID-19 repatriation flight crash-landed in the hilltop runway at the Calicut International Airport in Kerala around 7:45pm on August 7.
The Boeing 737 plane carrying carried 190 people— six crew members and 184 passengers who were flying home after being stranded in the UAE due to various reasons amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the air traffic control officials and a flight tracker website, the flight twice circled and started to land before it crashed at the third attempt.
The jet repeatedly jumped up and down before it skidded off and overshot the runway, said survivors.
It then plunged down a ravine, breaking up into two, killing 18 people including the pilot and the co-pilot instantly and injuring scores more. A pregnant woman, a youth flying for his wedding, and two kids and their mothers were among the 16 passengers who lost their lives that night.
“Her ornaments were handed over to my brother-in-law during the post mortem itself. But, we took time to go and donate them to the charity organisation because I had to be quarantined for 28 days after I came down from Dubai the next day after the crash,” he said over the phone from Kerala.
He said both his and Sahira’s families felt Sahira would be happy to see the ornaments worn by an underprivileged bride. “I am sure she is also happy that Azam went with her. He would have turned one on the 19th of this month. He was born two months before the due date. He came early and left us early,” the grieving father said about the youngest victim of the crash.
Heroic efforts by the local residents including taxi drivers and traders, who joined airport rescue staff and other governmental rescue workers, helped free people from the wreckage and rush them to hospitals.
Of the 169 survivors including four crew members, around 80 suffered critical injuries while many others sustained minor to moderate injuries and trauma, an airline spokesperson told Gulf News.
Three more passengers succumbed to their injuries in the coming weeks, taking the total death toll to 21. The deceased included four children, with the youngest being 10-month-old.
A final investigation report is awaited to reveal the exact cause of the crash which aviation experts have attributed to various factors from hydroplaning to tailwind to pilot error.
Survivors: Dealing with trauma, compensation claims
Survivors, including children and families of the victims, have been struggling to cope with the tragedy and trauma that changed their lives.
While many have been able to get on with routine activities, some of the critically injured with spinal cord injuries and leg fractures are still on a long road to recovery.
The crash victims’ families have formed a WhatsApp group to share their concerns and work together for their common causes. The family group has been named after Karipur, the area in which the tabletop airport is located in the Malappuram district of Kerala.
A member of the group, Dr Sajjad Hussain, who lost his sister Sahira Banu, 29, along with her 10-month-old son Azam Muhammad, said around 10 passengers are still bedridden or wheelchair-bound.
Survivor begins new life after wedding
One of the survivors of the Dubai-Kozhikode Air India Express flight crash has begun a new life after his wedding — for which he was travelling to India on that ill-fated flight.
It was a rebirth of sorts for Indian expat Parameswaran Azhakath, his elder brother Ravisankar Azhakath, sister-in-law Tara Sankar and four-year-old niece Ayana Ravisankar when they survived the crash with injuries that required surgeries.
Parameswaran, 28, who underwent treatment for spinal cord injuries, recovered and tied the knot with his fiancée Sisira Vasudevan on September 10, the family said.
The wedding ceremony was held at the groom’s house in the Pattambi area of Palakkad district. It was originally scheduled to be held at the bride’s home in Ollukkara area of Thrissur district in keeping with traditional practice, Ravisankar told Gulf News over the phone from Kerala. He said the family members of Sisira, the bride, travelled to the groom’s house for the wedding. Read more
While Air India Express has completed disbursing the interim compensation it had announced, he said, families of some of the deceased have started receiving the interim solatium from the state government announced by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
However, he said, neither the survivors nor the families of the deceased have received the same announced by India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
The interim compensation by the airline was Rs1 million (Dh50,454) to the next of kin of the deceased passengers aged 12 years and above, Rs500,000 to passengers below 12 years, Rs200,000 to passengers who were critically injured and Rs50,000 to others.
Though Puri had announced similar amounts, he had said it would be over and above all other compensations.
“…I want to inform you that we will be making an interim relief payment of Rs10 lakhs (Rs1million) for each of the deceased, for Rs2lakh (Rs200,000) for those who are seriously injured and Rs50,000 for those who may have suffered minor injuries. This is over and above all other compensations which might be forthcoming from different agencies, the insurance of the aircraft etc.,” the minister had said during a press conference after visiting the accident site on August 8.
Murthasa Fasal, whose wife Sumayya Thasneem, 27 was critically injured and two-year-old daughter Aysha Dua died in the crash, also confirmed that there has been no word about the compensation announced by the minister.
He said nobody had contacted him regarding the compensation announced by the central minister while the state government’s relief money (Rs1 million) has been credited.
“There is no response to a mail that I had sent seeking details about the Civil Aviation Minister’s announcement,” he added.
Surprise wedding gift from Indian businessman
Dubai: Cherikka Parambil Rajeevan, 61, one of the victims of the Dubai-Kozhikode Air India Express flight crash on August 7, was flying home to make arrangements for his daughter on the ill-fated flight.
Around 70 days after the crash that left 21 including the pilot and co-pilot dead, Rajeevan’s daughter Anusree has received an unexpected wedding gift from Dubai.
The gift of Rs100,000 for Anusree, whose wedding is on Monday, October 19, went from Dhananjay Datar, chairman and managing director of Al Adil Trading, who had announced an aid of Rs2million for families of all 18 victims whose deaths were declared immediately after the crash.
As promised, Datar transferred Rs100,000 each to the families of all 19 deceased passengers (as three more died later) last week after collecting their contacts through Gulf News, which had reported on October 7 that they were yet to receive the promised aid. Attributing the delay to the non-availability of right contacts of the family members of the victims, Datar said he transferred the promised amount to all the families, who had grouped together on WhatsApp. Datar said he was also looking forward to extending the same support to the families of the pilot and co-pilot. Read more
Meanwhile, P.G. Prageesh, chief of Corporate Communications, Air India Express (AIE), confirmed to Gulf News over the phone that the airline has also begun the process to disburse the final compensation, which, he reiterated, would be as per the Montreal Convention.
Around 45 people have submitted claim forms for final compensation and the airline has been working on those applications, he said.
“It might take a longer time to settle the final compensation of the critically injured as it depends on the details of their future treatment as well,” said Prageesh.
However, the said the airline has been promptly settling all hospital bills and all related expenditures incurred by the passengers and their kith and kin.
“We had placed representatives at each of the 21 hospitals to be available at hand for any assistance to the passengers and their relatives and also given a letter of comfort that allows hospitals to provide treatment without any worries regarding future bill payment.”
Apart from bearing the medical expenses, he said the airline has also aided two of the critically injured passengers with financial assistance to rent apartments near hospitals that are far away from their houses and to appoint a home nurse in another case.
“We have ensured that no injured passenger has to bear any expenses related to treatment and transportation out of their pockets. We are promptly reimbursing all their bills to alleviate any financial burden on them.”
He also clarified that the treatment expenses would not be deducted from the final settlement.
“Only the interim compensation would be deducted from the final compensation amount as that was released by the airline before the insurance claims were cleared. Passengers will also be given baggage compensation along with the final compensation,” he added.