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October 25, 2020

PK8303: ‘but why...’ -- the plane crash survivor’s account

National

October 25, 2020

After my God gave me this strength and put the trust of my possible survival in me, I didn’t say any prayers or recited anything, despite the fact that two air-hostesses in front of me were crying and reciting loudly and so as the steward on my right, across the aisle. Frankly, there was no time either to recite anything, by the time I had finished my conversation with my God, the plane had met its hapless providence. It was literally a matter of few seconds. While there was no announcement or indication on the part of cockpit that the plane was in trouble during the distressed time, which I would assume was 10 minutes or so when the plane took off again after the failed landing first time and by the time it broke into pieces eventually, the air-hostesses got the wind that something is just not right. They had started with recitation of verses in low voices (but I could hear them due to proximity) and their volume and intensity in their appeal to God enhanced manifold as the time lapsed closer to the accident, which made me believe that they had knew from the beginning, with their sheer experience perhaps, that the plane is in trouble and only God could save it now. That was very scary moment. I am sure other people around me would be in similar state but I didn’t know that as I was too absorbed with the reactions of late air hostesses and steward in my neighbourhood and in deciphering what was happening and would happened eventually.

Immediately as the plane hit the uneven surface/ habitat, apparently from the rear end/ tail side in a relatively tall building as the aircraft was in the angular state (virtually horizontal), it could be imagined that there were worst possible jolts; however, until then I didn’t feel any serious injuries. Nevertheless, I had fainted, probably with the shock of the crash, as I had not met an apparent injury (on my head or otherwise) which could have caused my unconsciousness. In fact, even later-on, there had been no signs of any such injuries which had caused my unawareness at the time of collision with the ground.

Anyway, I consider myself very fortunate that I had lost my senses, at that time, as it could have serious implications on my mindset which would have adversely affected my life even after the miraculous survival or the other possibility could have been that I would have done something stupid which could have changed the course of things as they turned out to be later-on in this anecdote of mine which resulted in me being alive today. I had only gotten the consciousness when I was being rescued on the ground. Therefore, I have no memory of that “crunch time” - How I fell from the plane? How I had landed on the car, which happened to have passengers in it, instead of the solid floor? How I was rescued from the debris of the plane? etc etc.

All I know about the “crunch time” is a second-hand account but corroborated from various sources. Apparently, when aircraft hit model colony, the plane broke into pieces, largely between the crew serving area with cockpit and the passenger section was divided from the aisle. Since, I was sitting right in the front and that also on the aisle, so when the plane broke, my seat seemingly fell out of the plane and I had fallen alongwith my seat only on rooftop of a house. The seat, it appears, fell on the rooftop straight on its legs which resulted it to bounce back, and me with it, and fell on the road. The seat could have fallen upside-down or in any other direction but straight and lucky for me, it didn’t, as otherwise it could have resulted in me getting fatal injuries.

The blessings continued and I fall on to a car from the rooftop alongwith the aircraft seat, instead of solid floor. Of course, if I could have dropped-down on the road from the top-floor, it would have been fatal, but God had to save me. His protection doesn’t end here, and the car that I had smashed on, as the luck would have it, had passengers in it; otherwise, no body would have known that I was alive and was seeking help for my survival. The car passengers told me that when the crash happened in their lane they didn’t know what had hit them as while they were about to start the car to leave for some work, their car wind-screen blew-away and then they saw me hitting the car bonnet and shouting for helping which caught their attention and they came for my rescue. I don’t remember all that as I was knocked-out at that time but an eye-witness narrated this to me. The car passengers tried to pull me out of the stuck position that I was in, between the car and the plane debris and possibly the plane seat too, but they couldn’t. They then called other people for help; five gentlemen showed up who had extracted me from the stuck position while there was fire close by which was spreading fast to the point where I was stuck. Subsequently, the place that I was evacuated from was also charred. This is the time when I had got my senses back, probably due to the pain, and I had happened to be fully aware about my situation. I had told my benefactors that I had a broken arm and a broken leg while my back was also hurting (burnt). They were very nice to me and took me out with much care.

The street that the plane was crash landed on had a dead-end and evacuation was not possible through a thoroughfare. However, luckily, yet again, there was a gated narrow passage between the two buildings which is generally locked but at that time the gate was happened to be unlocked. I was quickly rescued from that passage and there was an ambulance waiting on the main road to transport me to the Hospital - CMH Malir. This all worked like a clock-work with the grace of God and saved the day for me.

The moment I was settled in the ambulance, my first question to the driver was about the status of the other passengers. I was told that I was the first one who was rescued so far and the status of others is not known yet. I then reached the CHM in emergency where the doctors immediately attended to me. Again, my first question was about the status of the other passengers. The answer was the same as the ambulance driver. Half hour when there was no news on me and I was sort of “missing” those were hell on my loved ones which I can only imagine and relate to putting myself in their shoes. I had requested the doctors/ attendants at CMH to get me a cellphone as I needed to call up my mother and let her know about my situation. A lady doctor responded and she had dialled my mother but her cell was shut and then I gave her my father’s cellphone number and finally spoke with him but the concern about the fellow passengers from the plane remained on my mind. Within few minutes, my family and friends started showing up and I was home free. I was transported to Darus Sehat Hospital where I was operated upon on my arm and on my leg. I had finally moved to my house on 4th June 2020.

All this while, the sort of love and affection that I got from the nation is my biggest treasure and I still get emotional when I think or talk about it. This is one thing which will remain with me all my life and I will cherish it always.

At the hospital, initial assessment was that I had broken right arm from two places and had a hairline fracture in my left leg but then three days later first surprise - about the most complex situation that all my ligaments were broken - came up. The doctor had been able to fix my lateral ligament through an operation and I have been advised to wait for some time to see if the other ligaments grow on their own in the next six months or so, or if I can spend my life without the remaining ligaments by fixing my lifestyle. Then the second surprise - Haematoma - started cropping up - first on my left leg, then on right leg and then on left and right limbs, respectively. Haematoma is a result of localized bleeding outside of blood vessels, due to a trauma including injury or surgery and involve blood continuing to seep from broken capillaries. It becomes painful and the blood clogged is then required to be drained. I was put four different drains on my legs. Those drains were then removed after the successful drainage of clogged blood in almost one and a half months. Then hitherto final surprise popped-up - “dead-skin in my back injury” right on the top of spinal-code. Debridement, which was very painful, was done on it and it’s now in the healing phase.

I would like to share that the most tricky and critical of all is the consultation with psychiatrist, in order to make the whole thing mentally normal post-accident. I had decided on consulting sessions in this respect to ensure that if there’re any psychological issues, due to accident trauma, then they shall be taken care of sooner rather than later. There’s generally a mindset blockade to do such consultations but this is something which is absolutely critical, to the extent of being mandatory, to my mind, as this could have more negative implications on someone, who had suffered such accident, than the physical injuries. I am still consulting with the doctor in the USA on this and will continue to do so until I am fully cleared by him. So far he’s happy with my situation and thinks that I am doing okay psychological.

As this was not enough, I also found out very recently only that I had contracted Corona in the midst of all this somewhere in June through antibodies testing. I had the symptoms then but was confused if those were due to Corona or heavy medication and intense treatment that I was under. Lo and behold, the results of Corona test in end-June also came negative which meant the I had gone through it earlier than that. It’s not surprising, given that was peak time for Corona cases and there were at least 200/ 300 people who had visited me when I was hospitalised for almost two weeks. Anyway, that phase also passed in hindsight.

With the grace of God, I am doing better with earlier broken right hand out of the cast but weak and not allowed to put much pressure on it. The left-leg is in brace with limited movement allowed due to broken ligaments in the knee. I have got my wheelchair and walker which allowed me limited mobility, but they are not the most convenient and are tiring, so can’t use them frequently; it’s more of an exercise or luxury than a routine. Physio, however, has started, which is good news as it would ultimately help in the completing the recovery. Things shall start getting normal in a month or so, hopefully. But for ligaments healing in my knee/ left leg, I am there for a long haul, it seems. Maybe six months or so.

Needless to say that this all is nothing in comparison to what could have happened to me. Every passing minute, I keep on thanking my God for giving me this opportunity to see how much people love me - the biggest and the only treasure of my life. One of my friends in Amsterdam knew that I am one of the biggest fans of The Corrs. She made a great effort and got me a personalised video message and a signed book from the lead singer Andrea Corr, which will remain a huge masterpiece for me for life. This is the extent of love and affection I got across the globe.

I am trying to lead my life as if nothing substantial happened with me and as if I am just recovering from small, normal injuries which one suffers in the normal course; not as a result of a grand plane crash. Total and complete denial seems to be the best option and strategy to lead my remaining life, whatever my God has stored for me, normally.

I had resumed work on 13th of July 2020 and had been operating normally under the Work from Home (WfH) arrangement, until I had physically joined the office in Lahore on 28th of September 2020. In fact, I had gone to another level of operating remotely, and calling my own working method, Working from Hospital Bed (WfHB). It went perfectly well and I have been very pleased with pace and quality. Joining the office, and WfHB, less than two months post-crash turned out to be a great idea as it kept me distracted from anything that would have played up on my free mind unnecessarily and it had made me feel that things are sort of normal for me and I am not hampered, in any way.

Subsequent to my doctor’s permission, I had traveled to Lahore to physically join my office after a lapse of four months, first time post my air crash, with PIA - our national asset - with the idea to support it and work towards its revival and improvement. I am supporting it’s restructuring with the hope and wish to see it regaining its former glory. My traveling on the national flag carrier was important for restoring faith and confidence of people in our own asset, but more so for my own sake to get over the fear of travel, and that also on the same airline that I had suffered the accident, out of my system. One can’t live with such apprehensions.

I am infinitely grateful for all the support and the love of people in these past few months, especially post my flight to Lahore on 26th of September 2020. While it was a smooth flight, except at the time of landing when the crash scene replayed in front of my eyes for a split second. It was not an easy journey, as I went through a post-trauma phase since crash which may take some time to wear off. However, there has been some varied reactions from the families of the victims for which I sincerely apologise. That was totally unintentional. I am a professional and an apolitical person. There has been no agenda of the sorts in my traveling on PIA. There’s absolutely no doubt that there’re serious problems with PIA which needed to be fixed. I can appreciate it very well as I am still badly suffering from them (can’t walk without stick or wheelchair) and may have to go for another surgery in a few months on my knee. The approach that I have taken to help address the issues of the airline is that we need to work with PIA/ Government to fix these gaps rather than being just a bystander and leaving them entirely on their own. This is “our” asset, or liability, as one may like to call it, like other public sector entities, and we have to work towards fixing it/ them. Some people don’t seem to agree with this point of view and I totally respect that. I maybe proven wrong with the passage of time but for the time being I expect people to support my positive attitude and noble intentions. I am always available for discussion and assistance, whatever ways possible for me, with the families of the victims. I am totally sensitive and aware of their loss and injuries. Let me reiterate that the trauma of the departure of my fellow passengers of PK8303 to the ultimate lives will always remain with me and I will continue to pray for them.

Whenever I think of this earth-shattering episode, I have no explanation of what happened and how I survived. It was totally divine and with the mere intervention of my God. All I can say for now is that it was surely a miracle. My only question to myself is “but why.....” - why the crash and why my survival? I am still struggling to find a response to this. Don’t have any answer or explanation; I am searching for it and after reading this article you may also have your own assessments. This, to my mind, is one big quiz which probably continues to loom on my head forever. One thing, however, I believe in, is that it seems that my God is happy with me the way I am and what I have been doing and perhaps He wants me to continue with it.

— Concluded