x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Ain paraglider crash prompts safety call

The Al Ain chief executive Carlo Nohra admitted voicing safety concerns before the show but said he would not rule out using powered gliders again.

Football fans flee in panic at the moment a paraglider and its engine crashed into a stand at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain on Wednesday night.
Football fans flee in panic at the moment a paraglider and its engine crashed into a stand at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain on Wednesday night.

ABU DHABI // A leading football club official called yesterday for greater safety precautions at pre-match entertainment after a powered glider crashed into a stand packed with fans.

"I'm glad nobody died, but they could kill people," said Khaled Awadh, assistant chief executive of Al Wahda. "And it shouldn't be that easy." Eight spectators and a pilot were injured when one of two powered gliders entertaining the crowd before Wednesday night's Al Ain-Al Wahda derby plummeted into the stands after its motor became entangled with decorative balloons.

The Al Ain chief executive Carlo Nohra admitted voicing safety concerns before the show but said he would not rule out using powered gliders again.

"Equally, we will be considering the safety aspect of all the activities that we will be authorising," he said. "It would be wrong of us not to have learnt from this experience."

The pilot, Khalid Yusuf, is thought to have broken a leg and pelvis in the crash. The eight fans suffered minor injuries.

"It could have been a lot lot worse," said Liam Weeks, the head of performance analysis at Al Ain. "And there could have been a lot more people taken down with him."

Mr Awadh said the pilots should have been forbidden from flying too low or flying close to the crowd. "It's nice for them to make some entertainment to attract the fans to come to the field," he said.

"That is something nice. But again, we have to take care."

Fans had to push their way through broken chairs as medics tended to the injured, said Ahmed Saleh, who was among the 10,000 strong crowd at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

"We saw people running away," said Mr Saleh, 21, from Al Ain. "We saw people rushing to help."

The two pilots - Mr Yusuf and Ahmed Rashid Al Ghaith - had been hired by the Al Ain fan society. Mohammed Al Dhaheri, the society's chairman, said Mr Yusuf had surgery at Al Ain Hospital and would be transferred to a foreign hospital for further treatment.

The balloons were not on the field when the pilots rehearsed their show, Mr Al Dhaheri said. When Mr Yusuf crashed, he was flying close to the crowd to throw confetti over the fans. A rope tethering the balloons is thought to have become stuck in his motor.

"This was an accident," said Mr Al Dhaheri, using the Arabic term qadaa wa qadar, similar to divine will.

"We're thankful that there were no fatal injuries. However, we did learn the lesson that you can never be too careful … we should have asked what decorations were going to be installed on the field during the presentation."

Mr Nohra, who accompanied the injured fans to hospital, said he had been assured that the flyers were experienced.

"But again, you don't plan a flight path, you don't plan wind conditions and stuff like that. So unfortunately, when accidents do happen, there are a number of issues that lead up to the accident, and I believe yesterday was one such incident: a reminder that things, regardless of how well planned and how well executed by professionals, don't always get executed the way they were planned for."

There is no government licensing process for the use of powered gliders, but Mr Yusuf and Mr Al Ghaith are experienced flyers, according to friends and colleagues. Both men work for the UAE Armed Forces and perform in military air shows.

"I know them personally, and they are very good pilots," said Johan Vercruyssen, the chief flight instructor for powered gliders at Jazirah Aviation Club in Ras Al Khaimah. "It's just an unfortunate accident."

The Al Ain Sports and Cultural Club said the injured fans were Ali Abdullah Al Shamisi, Saif Hamad Al Ameri, Salem Obeid Al Kaabi, Hassan Musallam Hassan, Ahmed Abdullah Al Muhairi, Thyab Ali Al Issai, Faris Khater and Hatem Ali Al Issai.

vnereim@thenational.ae