AL AIN // It was supposed to be a future full of joy and celebration for Colonel Saif Abdulla Al Hajj Al Kaabi and his family.
Tomorrow he would have celebrated the engagement of his daughter Fatma, 19, followed on September 15 by his 22-year-old daughter Hamda's wedding and in October by the wedding of his eldest daughter Afra, 28.
But all three daughters died along with their father and three of Col Saif's sons in an horrific car crash in Oman on Monday. His wife, Mariam, sustained serious injuries and remains in intensive care at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, where her condition is critical but stable.
Messages of condolence continued flooding in from throughout the country yesterday as grieving relatives and friends gathered at the home of Col Saif's brother Salem.
Hamda's distraught fiance spoke yesterday of his shock and heartbreak. "I didn't believe it at first," said Sultan Obaid Al Kaabi, a police officer in Al Ruwais. "I talked to her on the phone just a few hours before."
He first heard about the accident when a relative phoned about rumours that were circulating, and began frantically trying to call her relatives, to no avail. Eventually confirmation came from his police colleagues. "Even when they told me, I still couldn't believe it, I don't think it has sunk in yet."
Sultan had already signed the marriage contract and was legally married, but by tradition was not to have been considered her husband until wedding services were concluded.
"Hamda was truly a very unique and special woman," he said. "She had a huge heart, one of the kindest people I've ever met.
"She wasn't like some of the girls you see today who like to show off and are concerned with having the latest designer clothes. She was very humble and very responsible and mature for her age."
Her dream was to work with children with special needs. "She had to complete special training and get certified to work with people with special needs, I encouraged her to follow her dream. She would have been an excellent mother."
They had not met since the middle of Ramadan, when he had suhoor at her house. "We talked about many things, but I can't remember what they were. The next day I had to report for duty in Al Ruwais, but we kept in touch over the phone and using messages.
"I cherish the little time I had to spend with her. I don't think I will ever meet someone like her again."
There was praise, too, for Col Saif himself. Said to be no older than 55, he retired from uniform six years ago, but recently accepted an administrative position at the military academy.
Many remembered him as a kind man. "He was one of the nicest people you'd meet," said his nephew Mohammed Rashid Adbulla Al Hajj Al Kaabi.
"He was a very social person, whenever he met someone he would insist on them coming to his house to be his guests.
"Family was everything to him, and he made sure to keep close ties with his family. He was building a house so that his children would stay close by.
"It was a very loving household. Mariam was more that just his wife, she was also his best friend."
Col Saif went to university in Oregon, in the United States, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and business administration.
"He had a wealth of knowledge, people used to always go to him for advice, be it technical, social, religious or just life experience. He was an invaluable friend and confidant to all those who knew him," Mohammed said.
Though a high-ranking officer, he was a humble man who loved spending time with the enlisted men.
"He would serve coffee to a private, didn't care about ranks or status," said one of his officers, a major, who had come to pay his respects.
"When I told some of the labourers at the academy that Col Saif had died, they were very sad and said that all the good people have died now."
He was passionate about heritage, an avid gardener and loved to travel.
"He had a friend in every village from Bahrain to Oman. He loved meeting new people and making new friends," said his nephew.
Col Saif was especially proud of his son Mohammed, 24, a co-pilot with Etihad Airways, who also died in the crash.
"Mohammed was about to complete the required flight hours to become an airline captain. He had just completed a flight to Cairo last week," said the colonel's nephew.
Mohammed would have survived but for a last-minute switch. For much of the journey he was in a following car with his brother Humaid, 26, switching places only minutes before with another brother, Abdulla, 17. Humaid and Abdulla were unscathed by the crash as it unfolded before them.
Ahmad Al Kaabi, a friend of the family and distant cousin, described Mohammed as "a quiet and religious young man, much like his father".
"He got me a ticket for Ummrah during Ramadan, not something easy to come by during the Holy Month," recalled Ahmad.
There was fond recollection, too, or the colonel's youngest child, nine-year-old Ahmad, a bright boy who averaged 93 per cent in his last school report card.
"They loved to spoil him," said his cousin. "His father took him everywhere he went."
Once Ahmad was playing with one of his cousins and she hit him, "They were play fighting, you know, like kids do, it was nothing serious. But his mother got so angry when she heard and made such a big deal of it. Ahmad was her baby, after all."
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, visited the family yesterday morning to offer his condolences, as did Sheikh Hazza bin Tahnoon, general manager of the court of the Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region. Services yesterday were also attended by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, and by several other sheikhs and dignitaries.