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May 24, 2020

One heartbreaking story after another continues emerging post-plane crash


May 24, 2020

Nida and Waqas had planned to surprise their family in Karachi by arriving in the city from Lahore along with their two children before Eidul Fitr.

While the couple did surprise the family, it turned out to be heartbreaking and dreadful, as they and their kids perished in Friday’s plane crash.

Saleem Qadri and his 21-year-old son Usama Saleem were sitting just behind one of the two survivors of the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-8304, Muhammad Zubair, a young mechanical engineer who jumped outside the aircraft immediately after the crash. The father-son, sadly, could not.

The Edhi morgue at Sohrab Goth wore more than the usual sombre look on Saturday, as family members of the PK-8304 passengers kept arriving in search of the bodies of their loved ones.

Each family brought a tear-jerking story with them. “No one in the family knew that they were coming from Lahore,” said one of Nida’s cousins, Amir, outside the morgue in the afternoon. “I knew they were coming, but even I didn’t know when and on which flight.”

After the news of the plane crash flashed on TV screens, Nida’s cousin, who is also a travel agent by profession, immediately, through his sources, checked the list of the passengers who had boarded the plane. “It had names of all four of them.”

The couple’s children were aged seven and 10. They wanted to celebrate the birthday of one of their children and the Roza Kushai (celebration of the first fast of a child) of the other with the kids’ grandparents, who were anxiously looking forward to their arrival but had no idea that they were actually coming.

“Imagine how difficult it was for us to break the news of their demise to their parents. They didn’t even have any idea that their children and grandchildren were on that plane,” said a teary-eyed Amir.

He said the family was not able to return to Karachi because of the preventive lockdown against COVID-19. “As soon as flight operations resumed, they packed their bags and made their way here, but kept it a surprise from their parents. But they couldn’t even land.”

Waqas is survived by his parents and a younger brother. Amir checked through at least 60 bodies at the mortuaries of different hospitals before identifying Nida and Waqas.

Both the bodies were severely burnt, but their facial features were still recognisable. He also managed to recognise them through their jewellery, sandals and clothes. One of the kids was later identified at the Edhi morgue, but for the youngest one, they are waiting for the DNA test result. A father figure

Owais and scores of other workers of Qadri’s garment factory were gathered at the Edhi morgue to support the family. Qadri is survived by a wife, a daughter and a younger son.

“We’re indebted to Qadri sahib’s generosities,” said Owais, adding that not even once during the entire lockdown period did he lay off any of his staff members or cut their pay.

“We were like his family. We used to work for 12 to 14 hours with him in the factory and at the boutique,” he recalled, saying that they would never forget their employer, who was like a father to them.

Before boarding the plane at the Allama Iqbal International Airport, Qadri’s 21-year-old son Usama created a story on his Snapchat that said: “Karachi bas aya” (Karachi, here I come).

“Usama was studying at some private university in Karachi,” said Owais, adding that he was almost ready to take care of his father’s business. “Usama would often come to the factory and spend time with us like brothers.”

The father-son had been on a business trip to Lahore. Qadri also has a boutique, Motis Fashion, at Tariq Road. “They used to go to Lahore every month for the recovery of their payments,” said Owais, adding that this time they could not come back.

Qadri’s body was identified by his brother, who was also his business partner. Qadri’s driver shared with Owais how before boarding the plane, he had directed him to be at the airport at 1:30pm.

“Qadri sahib wanted to go for the Juma [Friday] prayer at Faizan-e-Madina directly after landing, after which he was to visit his boutique,” said Owais.

Edhi mortuary incharge Ilyar said they had received 53 bodies, of which 11 had been identified until the filing of this story. “Seven of the bodies have been handed over to their families,” he said, adding that they were identified through clothes, jewellery and shoes.

As for the rest of the bodies that could not be identified, he said they are waiting for the DNA test results. At the Edhi mortuary, he added, they keep copies of family members’ ID cards.

“Several family members show us the pictures of their loved ones before they had boarded the planes,” he said, adding that if the clothes in the pictures match the ones on the deceased, they hand over the bodies to their families. “We allow them to take the bodies after proper verification.”