x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dubai car crash hero: 'The flames were so hot but I had to help'

Two men tell of the moment they risked their lives to pull victims from the burning wreckage of a six-vehicle pile-up that killed one woman.

Abdul Kalam Azad, a delivery driver from India, witnessed the accident and then ran to help.
Abdul Kalam Azad, a delivery driver from India, witnessed the accident and then ran to help.

DUBAI // While others watched the wreckage burn, either unable or unwilling to help, three men sprung into action and risked their lives doing it. Flames swept through six vehicles involved in the crash on Al Sufouh Road on Wednesday that claimed the life of an Indian woman, who died at the scene, and injured two men.

The death toll could have been much higher without the quick thinking and courage of several bystanders, said Major Essam al Awar, Director of Traffic Patrol Units at Dubai Police's Bur Dubai branch. "We would call them heroes," he said. One of the men was Abdul Kalam Azad, a 32-year-old Indian who was on his way to make a food delivery. He was waiting at the lights on a motorcycle when a speeding 4x4 crashed into the other cars after its tyre burst.

"I was scared," he said. "There was such a loud noise and the accident happened right before my eyes." He ran to the cars, which were mangled together and on fire. He said as he opened the door to one vehicle, members of a family inside "fell out". "It was so hot, it was very hot inside," he said. "The heat was too much." The fire spread fast, crumpling each vehicle "like a date". Owen Bennett, 53, who is from Ireland and runs a hotel supply company, was on his way to a meeting when his car was rear-ended in the melee.

"I can't remember what colour the lights were," he said. "It happened all so quickly." He jumped out of his car and began helping Mr Azad and another man, an Arab who remains unidentified, pull people from the burning wrecks. In one vehicle, a man lay dazed in the back seat, the woman already dead in the front. Mr Bennett and Mr Awad fought to pry open the door. Despite the searing temperature, the Indian man managed to drag the man out as he cried for help.

"The heat was absolutely phenomenal," said Mr Bennett. "I was not sure if we could go back one more time to get the woman out. We didn't know she was dead. We just wanted to get her out. Myself and Mr Azad got her hand and yanked her out." Behind him, he heard another father roar at his children to run fast in case their car exploded. Mr Bennett believed the men helped up to seven people to safety, including a small family.

Mr Azad said he remained fearful of the junction where the crash happened. "A woman died there, that's why I get scared," he said. "I cross that road 20 times or more a day but the place scares me now." Mr Bennett, who told police about Mr Azad's bravery, plans to buy him an airline ticket home to see his family and one-year-old daughter in Chennai. "I know they have these awards for people who help out in an emergency," he said. "They should do something like that for him. Without him, there would be at least one more person dead."

A representative of the Indian Consul said yesterday Mr Azad would be be awarded a Certificate of Recognition at a ceremony at the Indian consulate in Dubai on August 15, India's National Day. "At the event we will award him a letter of appreciation and let the Indian community know about his brave deeds," said Sanjay Verma, the Indian consul general. Mahmoud Hamad, head of media at Dubai Civil Defence, said the men did the right thing considering the circumstances.

"The fire was spreading quickly and their help was important." However, if any member of the public is at the scene of an accident and there is no immediate danger, they should wait for the emergency services. "There can be spinal injuries, and without the correct training, to move them is very dangerous," he said. Mr Azad, who has yet to tell his wife what happened, said he just did what he could.

"I had to help these people," he said. "I just went to help them." Mr Bennett said the experience provided a powerful reminder of how fragile life can be. "I was going ahead and doing my business," he said. "You never know your day or your hour, so go out there and enjoy it." eharnan@thenational.ae rtalwar@thenational.ae