Tuesday July 23, 2024

PIA plane crash grief compounded by coronavirus for many Pakistanis

Wahida and Fazal Rahmaan had died in PIA plane crash on May 22 and their son, Adil, alongside relatives attended their funeral via Zoom

June 02, 2020
TOP: Fazal Rahmaan (2R) celebrates his 80th birthday with his wife, Wahida, in Lahore, Pakistan. Picture taken on March 26. Courtesy of the Adil Rahman family/Handout via AFP; BOTTOM: Adil Rahman says farewell to his parents as he attends their funeral via Zoom. Twitter/Adil Rahman (@Arnahstl)/via The News

ISLAMABAD: Gathered together via Zoom, friends and relatives of Wahida and Fazal Rahmaan watched from afar as the beloved couple were buried in Pakistan, days after they were killed in a plane crash.

For many who lost loved ones in the May 22 tragedy, grief has been compounded by the coronavirus, which has made travel to funerals impossible and attendance dangerous.

The Rahmaans, married 53 years, were among 97 people killed when the Pakistan International Airlines Airbus plummeted into a Karachi neighbourhood, killing all but two people on board.

"The most instinctual human response to grief is to hold on to somebody and hug somebody," said Adil Rahman, one of the couple's four sons, who spells his name slightly differently than his parents.

"Covid has stripped us from that."

Instead Rahman watched the burial of his 80-year-old father and mother — who would have turned 75 on Friday — from his Missouri home in the US, where he works in IT.

"Draped in the Pakistani flag, adorned with beautiful flowers, my parents came home for the last time and I said my farewell over Zoom," Rahman wrote on Twitter.

"They were beautiful and graceful till the end."

Like many other nations Pakistan has closed its borders to international travellers in an effort to contain the deadly disease.

Zoom's video-conferencing platform on Friday showed a grid of grief-stricken faces with the largest frame showing the funeral in Lahore, where an imam with a mask over his long beard recited the Quran as a small group of mourners covered the Rahmaans' graves in flowers.

Rahman said the delay in identifying the bodies added to the family's grief, discovering first from local television that their mother's body had been identified, which he described as a "gut punch".

"And you don't know how to recover from that," he said.

The family chose not to hold a traditional large funeral because of COVID-19, in a country where the disease first appeared slowly but is now picking up pace.

About 72,000 cases have been reported with more than 1,500 deaths — but the virus is now spreading at an accelerating rate.

The Rahmaans took Flight 8303 to visit their son in Karachi at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Investigators have uncovered the Airbus's black box and cockpit voice recorder, and Pakistani authorities hope to release initial findings June 22.

During the ill-fated flight, the pilots made a first landing attempt and the plane briefly touched the ground multiple times, before attempting a second try.

Experts say pilots likely tried to land the Airbus without lowering the wheels, damaging both engines so badly they soon failed.