x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Families' emotional memorial to relatives killed in UAE air crash

With the deaths of all 112 passengers and crew, the Sterling Airways flight 296 crash remains one of the worst aviation disasters in the histories of both the UAE and Denmark.

On a mountain ridge overlooking al-Hayl in Fujairah, Jussi Paivinen placed a flower yesterday.

Accompanied by his teenage sons, his trip was the closest the Dane had felt to his parents in 40 years.

The couple, who had been on holiday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, died when their plane crashed into a 485-metre ridge in the emirate, close to the Oman border, on March 14, 1972.

With the deaths of all 112 passengers and crew, the Sterling Airways flight 296 crash remains one of the worst aviation disasters in the histories of both the UAE and Denmark.

"He was able to close a chapter of him that could [previously] not be closed," said 48-year-old Henrik Michelsen, whose 22-year-old cousin, an air hostess, also died that day.

"But now we know where they took their last breath, some part of him - a chapter of him - has closed."

For the Danish expatriate, who has lived in Dubai for three years, yesterday's memorial was also a chance to commemorate his "hero", his seasoned-traveller cousin, Lone Bernth.

Too young to attend her funeral back home in Denmark, the expatriate, who also works in aviation, was finally able to give her his own send off.

"When I found out she wasn't coming home any more, that she was dead, that she was gone... it was very sad," he said, the memory still clear to this day.

Several more families will travel to the crash site at the end of the month, where some wreckage still remains, to pay their respects.

Among them will be retired teacher Ingrid Mannerup, from Hellerup, whose parents, Maja and Larf Peter Jorgensen, were on board the flight.

Having erected a memorial plate in their name on the 30th anniversary of the crash, with permission from the previous Ruler of Fujairah, this year will be the first time her children have made the trip.

In 2002 she and her sister had to scramble up the mountain ridge. However, this year's journey will not be as laborious - nor as bleak, she added.

"When we placed it up there we found a lot of shoes, bones, clothes - everything."

Only 23 years old when she heard news of the crash, the date still has an affect on her.

"I had married six months before the accident. We [my siblings and I] were grown up, but we grew up in a different way afterwards."

Poul Hoiness, the Danish ambassador to the UAE, said the crash affected the entire nation of Denmark.

"I remember when it happened, and it is still a bit of a mystery.

"It was a tragedy and it attracted a lot of attention at the time, and for good reason, because people felt very saddened."

Making the journey to Fujairah should hopefully provide closure to the families left behind, he added.

"Forty years later, I express my condolences to those who lost their loves ones. I think it's really good that some members of their families have been able to make it over here."

For Ms Mannerup, whose trip at the end of the month will mark her third visit to the country, the UAE - though a place that holds bad memories - has been a source of strength.

"I left some of my heart in the UAE. The first time we [my sister and I] went through to Fujairah we were met with so much love and warmth. The locals thought it was so great that we were showing our parents so much respect. Everyone always talks about it being artificial, but I don't think that. I really left my heart here."

 

zalhassani@thenational.ae