x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Funeral for UAE pilot who died in crash

Suhail Al Dhajeri, the Air Force pilot whose plane crashed on Tuesday night, was remembered warmly by his family and friends.

Prayers for First Lt Pilot Suhail Mubarak Abdullah Al Dhaheri were held on Wednesday afternoon at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Dibba, Fujairah.
Prayers for First Lt Pilot Suhail Mubarak Abdullah Al Dhaheri were held on Wednesday afternoon at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Dibba, Fujairah.

ABU DHABI // He did the impossible, flying again after a car accident that left him with ruined ligaments and other serious injuries.

Three years later, he spent his last moments in a Mirage fighter jet, before it crashed between Abu Dhabi and Liwa during a routine training exercise on Tuesday night.

First Lt Suhail Al Dhaheri was 27. He had been scheduled to sign his marriage contract today.

Family and friends described his passion for flying and playing football. "Flying is all he ever wanted to do," said his eldest brother, Ali, 39, an aviation engineer.

First Lt Al Dhaheri enrolled in aviation high school as soon as he finished ninth grade and then continued on to military aviation college.

"I was against it," his brother said. "I wanted him to finish his studies properly and get higher education. But I was out of the country at that time and I came back to find him already enrolled in the aviation high school."

In May 2007, First Lt Al Dhaheri was involved in a serious car accident. The vehicle was in flames and he was stuck inside. Afterwards, his medical treatment included a ligaments transplant. Doctors said he had little chance to fly again.

"A pilot needs a lot of medical tests before he flies. We all thought he will never fly again, but it was his strong will because he always wanted to fly," Mr Al Dhaheri said.

The brothers were together during the most critical moments of First Lt Al Dhaheri's life and death.

"I was with him as they flew him from Saqr Hospital in RAK to Dubai for the surgery after the [car] accident. And now I was with his body as it was transferred from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah to the burial."

Although he was the one to receive the body, he did not take a goodbye glance after an officer advised him against doing so.

"I asked to see it, but he told me no, the memory will stick with you forever, so I just signed."

As Mr Al Dhaheri tried to reflect on the special memories he shared with his brother, he broke into tears before recalling their weekly ritual.

"I used to play football with him [on PlayStation] always every weekend. I would call to him from his room to play; he used to love challenging me. He liked England and I liked France."

The pilot had been due to sign his marriage contract today to a 22-year-old girl he met through his sister. "He saw her once only two weeks ago in her house when he and my sister and mother visited [her family] to propose," said Mr Al Dhaheri. "He said he liked her straight away and we paid an amount of the dowry as a confirmation of the verbal agreement."

His fiancee, who was scheduled to marry him on November 11, was devastated when she found out he had died.

"My brothers and father knew, but no one told me," said the young woman, who did not wish to be named because of family tradition.

"The next morning I received a message from his sister saying, 'We belong to Allah and to him we shall return, we lost the precious one'."

She said at first she thought it was one of First Lt Al Dhaheri's brothers, but when she called the family she discovered it was her fiance.

She said she had already started preparing her wedding dress and the marriage requirements.

Family members recalled with fondness First Lt Al Dhaheri's habit of sending a message to all his contacts every Friday, including a religious message or prayer.

"Also anyone who was upset with him or with anyone else he had to send them messages," said Mr Al Dhaheri.

One of the last phone calls he made was to his mother. He told her he would call as soon as he landed. His mother was on Umrah pilgrimage when the accident happened, and was told by one of her sons that First Lt Al Dhaheri had been in an accident and that she should fly back to see him.

"She kept calling every five minutes to talk to him; I had to make up excuses that he was in ICU, he was sleeping … but she had a feeling."

Mrs Al Dhaheri was told the news by her son Abdullah when she arrived at the airport from Saudi Arabia. "When I went to see her the next day, she asked me, 'Where is your brother? You lied to me but my heart felt it'," Mr Al Dhaheri said.

The fifth-eldest of 19 siblings - 10 boys and 10 girls from two different mothers, 10 from each - First Lt Al Dhaheri was known for his especially close relationship with his mother.

"He would call her before he took any step. Even when he decided to get engaged he told mother first and took her and my sister with him."

He would always call her before any flight and as soon as he landed.

When his closest brother, Abdullah, received the news, the first thing that came to his mind was an incident that occurred a week before his death.

"He was on late shift, and when he arrived home in his pilot uniform, I was sitting with our cousin Falah, and he started asking him about their pilot colleagues. He described how this person died in a plane crash and so did the other. And then it happened to him."

Abdullah Al Dhaheri, a 29-year-old engineer, said he was sitting with his friends when one of them received a message on his BlackBerry about a missing pilot whose plane crashed.

"I suspected it was him because I called him an hour ago and he did not pick up," Abdullah Al Dhaheri said. "So I kept calling all his three mobile numbers, but he did not answer."

First Lt Al Dhaheri's cousin, Falah Ahmad, 29, also an Air Force pilot, remembered how a week ago after they were playing football, the pilot told him that was his last time to play, because he was preparing to get married and did not want to suffer any injuries for work as well.

"And his words came true; it was really his last time to play."

hdajani@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Amna Al Haddad