x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Air India crash survivors return to UAE

Survivors of last year's Mangalore crash say they are not optimistic about Air India's promise of providing them with full employment and compensation.

DUBAI // Two of the eight survivors of the Mangalore air crash have returned to the UAE for work and another two are due back soon because, they say, promises of good jobs with Air India have either not materialised or are inadequate.

All four men are trying to rebuild their lives, more than a year after flight 812 from Dubai overshot the runway and crash landed in Mangalore.

The crash in May last year, killed 158 people - 152 passengers and all six crew members.

On Wednesday, a lawyer for Air India announced that the airline would appeal against last month's court order to pay at least 7.5 million rupees (Dh618,000) to each victim's family.

However, the survivors say they are not optimistic about benefiting from any court order, as they feel there is a lack of clarity over the compensation.

The fear and trauma of the accident continues to haunt the survivors. And, they said, they now feel forced to leave their families behind in India yet again to seek work in the Emirates.

"I was in a hospital for two months and on bed rest for another six," said Ummerfarooq Mohammed, 27, who suffered more than 12 per cent burns to his face and hands in the accident. "It was very painful."

He rejoined his old facilities management company as a head supervisor in June.

He got in touch with his former employer because he was under financial stress. The airline paid his hospital bill and gave him an initial compensation payment of 200,000 rupees (Dh16,550) but he has been battling for a higher pay-out from the airline.

The ordeal remains etched in his memory. He managed to escape from the plane after it broke into two pieces when crashing.

"I still have burn marks," said Mr Mohammed.

He refused to take up Air India's offer with a sub-contracting company for a monthly salary of Dh495. "I wrote to them appealing for a better job and salary but they never responded."

Abdullah Puttur Ismail, 36, returned to Dubai last month. He had to muster considerable courage to board another Air India flight.

"I spoke to the pilot before flying," said Mr Ismail, who was offered his previous job as a store manager at a sports company. "My wife was very worried when I decided to come back. But I have to fend for the family."

He had also escaped from the plane after it broke into two, with the plane catching fire shortly after.

His injuries required a month in hospital. Mr Ismail, who received Dh16,000 as compensation, also got a job offer from the carrier, but he said the remuneration was too low.

A third survivor, Mayan Kutty, is preparing to leave his home town for a job with an Umm Al Qaiwain real estate company. He isanxious about the move, however.

"The shock of being alive has not yet worn off," said Mr Kutty, 49, said from India. "I am scared to even see a plane let alone to sit in one. But my children have to study, so I must work. Even if it's difficult, I have to do it."

Mr Kutty was treated for head injuries, but the mental scars remain long after the physical ones have healed.

"The mind has been affected," he said. "There was so much fire and yelling."

He said he had not been offered employment by Air India, and was keen to get back to the Gulf, where he worked previously for 18 years.

Mr Kutty received 200,000 rupees and then another 500,000 rupees in compensation from the airline.

"I sent them a letter but there was no reply," he said. "If there was work for me in Air India, I would be ready to stay in India, otherwise I must go abroad again for my family."

The survivors' lives have changed irreversibly, despite attempts by lawyers who were negotiating settlement claims to convince them otherwise.

Krishnan Koolikkummu, 47, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the crash and required stitches for a head injury, is anxious every time he travels. He had worked in the packing division of a Dubai-based logistics company for nine years, but has not been able to return to search for work after he lost his papers in the crash.

Lawyers argued that nothing had happened to him in the accident.

"But everything happened to me," he said, adding that he recently received a new passport and is awaiting a UAE visa. "I lost my life ... my job. My life was destroyed by the crash. My life has changed. How can they say I didn't lose anything? My family says don't go back, but I must. I am scared and so are they, but I have to start all over again."

pkannan@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae