Dubai: It was a Tuesday, February 3, 1998, 20 people died in Italy after a United States warplane hit a cable car. Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, a three-year old boy miraculously survived a fall from the balcony of an apartment on the 16th floor.
The tragedy in Italy became an international headline, while the incredible incident in UAE caught the attention of many UAE residents, medical professionals and the local Press — it was the banner story on Page 3 of Gulf News.
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People were astounded and called the child a miracle boy and super toddler; while doctors were initially bemused how someone could have survived a 65-metre plunge, which was above an average medium-rise building.
The boy survived with only a fracture on his right thigh and some ‘minor injuries’. The scars he got from the accident have become unrecognisable and he has grown into a robust man — over six feet in height and leading an active outdoors life.
His name is Mohamad Taleb El Kabra, now 26. He is a Dutch citizen of Palestinian origin and he spoke to Gulf News on Thursday from his current residence in Roermond, a city in the southeastern part of The Netherlands, where he works as a logistics engineer.
The boy who survived
Recalling the incident of that fateful day, Mohamad said he woke up from an afternoon nap. He was resting as he had had chicken pox. When he noticed that no one was around — with his mother downstairs to quickly pick up some groceries — he got attracted to the colourful balcony and rooftops around.
“In the eyes of a three-year old, those roofs and the balcony looked like inviting staircases,” recalled Mohamad, adding: “I was mesmerised by the purple and white colours, so I opened the balcony window.
“I climbed over the fence and put my feet down but then I realised there was no step. For a few minutes I was hanging in the air! I was just a child so I could not pull myself up. I lost my grip, my hands slipped and I fell,” Mohamad said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Everything happened so fast. Mohamad could not exactly remember how it felt dropping from the 16th floor of their residential building located at the junction of Al Najda and Hamdan Streets in Abu Dhabi.
Thankfully, he did not drop on hard concrete, but landed instead on the bonnet of a car parked outside the building. The vehicle served as a ‘cushion’ and lessened the impact.
A loud thud was heard and Mohamad’s mother, Aysha, who was on her way back to the house, saw a crowd milling around her son. An ambulance arrived and Mohamad was immediately rushed to Al Jazeera Hospital (which is now part of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City).
According to the Gulf News report, Aysha was away for only 3-5 minutes when the incident happened. Mohamad’s father, Hisham, who was an employee back then at Juma Al Majid in Abu Dhabi, was told that his son had had an accident, but was not given the full details.
Mohamad said: “My father received a call in office, but was not told that I had fallen off from the balcony of our home, perhaps because people thought it would be better to not let him worry too much while driving back home. It was only when he arrived at the hospital that he realised what a miraculous escape I had from death!”
Doctors left dumbfounded
It was really nothing short of a miracle for Mohamad to have survived. Sufian Yusef Alami, medical director at Al Jazeera and Central Hospitals at that time, told Gulf News: “We had many cases of people falling. Almost every third or fourth day, we had people brought in who fell from construction sites — from the fourth or fifth floor. Their injuries were usually serious and accidents like Mohamad’s were usually immediately fatal.”
“God saved him,” exclaimed Alami, adding: “Mohamad did well in hospital, his vital signs were normal; and the only injury he had was a fracture in the right thigh.”
There were no injuries to Mohamad’s chest, abdomen and skull. In fact, he was discharged from the hospital after two weeks.
“Being young helped him because a child’s bones are softer and could withstand trauma better than an adult,” explained the medical director who had for the first time encountered someone who survived a fall from such a height.
Grateful to God and UAE doctors
Looking back, Mohamad said it was like he was given a second life. He pointed out: “No one was to be blamed for the accident and it should never happen to anyone. But I would be forever grateful for God’s divine intervention. He sent his angels to lift and protect me on that fateful day.”
“After my story was published in various newspapers, a lot of concerned people came to visit me at the hospital to check on my condition and also to give assurances to my parents. The UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, even sent a representative to give me a bouquet of flowers and wished me to get well soon,” he recalled.
Mohamad added he also owed a lifetime of gratitude to the Iraqi doctor who set his fractured leg right. “He (Iraqi doctor) was ingenious. Other doctors were convinced that because of the fall, one of my legs would be shorter than the other. But the (Iraqi) doctor thought otherwise and he restored my fractured leg by putting weights until it completely healed,” he recounted.
What happened next
Mohamad said many people, including his own family and himself, never thought he would dare to cross the balcony fence and put himself in a dangerous situation.
“I remember, before the incident, whenever we were at the park, my parents would put me on top of the slide and they always begged me to slide, but I never went down,” he recalled with a hearty laugh.
Mohamad said he grew up as a gentle and reserved boy, but he never developed a fear of heights. “Life went on as normal. But we moved to another flat and, as I recall, we never lived higher than the third floor after the incident. Also, my parents put child lock in ever door and window,” he added.
Mohamad continued with his regular life. He finished grade school at Al Falah School in Abu Dhabi and high school in Al Nahda School before earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Al Hosn University, Abu Dhabi.
Mohamad, who was born in Damascus, is the eldest in a brood of three. His younger brother, Ahmad, born in Abu Dhabi, is now 20; and the youngest, Yamen, born in Ottawa, Canada, is now 17.
Mohamad and his family migrated in 2016 to The Netherlands, where he is now a citizen and happily married. He and his wife, Milad, are planning to have their own family. He still considers Abu Dhabi as his ‘hometown’ and he is planning to visit the UAE soon.
He also has one thing in mind when he returns to the country – and that is to try skydiving next time.