ABU DHABI // The families of two Emirati pilots killed on Monday when their jet crashed in Yemen have paid tribute to the "brave, highly disciplined" young men who gave their lives in the line of duty.
Zayed Al Kaabi – who turned 37 on Monday – and Mohammed Al Hmoudi, 25, died when their Mirage fighter came down after a “technical fault”.
Yemeni officials said the two-seat plane was flying low when it crashed into a mountain after bombing raids in Buraiqa district, in north-west Aden – a base for Al Qaeda militants.
Mohammed, from Dibba Al Hosn, had been a pilot for six years and always dreamt of flying jets, said his uncle, Dr Sultan Al Adhab.
“We were proud of him when he joined the aviation college in Al Ain,” Dr Al Adhab said. “It is difficult to lose him but he died doing an honourable thing and there are not enough words I can say to explain how proud I am.”
He said enrolling at the college then joining the Armed Forces had been Mohammed’s goal for years.
“It’s something that he dreamt of since he was a child,” Dr Adhab said. “He died doing what he loved to do the most for the most honourable of causes.”
He said Mohammed was one of seven brothers and was not married. “He was highly disciplined and loved his work. He graduated second in his class.”
Relatives gathered at the family’s home to await news of when Mohammed’s body would arrive from Yemen so arrangements could be made for the funeral, expected to take place on Tuesday.
Zayed, from Merbah in Fujairah, was married with four children.
“We come from a big family. We have 12 siblings,” said his brother Saeed.
“The news came as a big shock to all of us but we’re proud of him and his sacrifice.
Zayed’s cousin Jassim Al Kaabi said he had been exchanging messages with him on social media and had been looking forward to seeing him again.
“I’m on holiday in the UAE for a few days and was WhatsApping with him two days ago. I was telling him that the UAE wasn’t fun without him,” said a distraught Jassim.
“He was a great human being above all, a wonderful father, a great son of this country. I can’t sing his praises enough.”
Thousands of Emiratis took to social media to pay their respects and condolences using hashtags with the pilots’ names, as well as #ourbravesoldiers.
The Armed Forces said the brave soldiers were martyred participating in Operation Restoring Hope, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to support the legitimate government.
“The Armed Forces extends its deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the martyrs,” said the statement on the state news agency Wam.
Meanwhile in Yemen yesterday, Emirates Red Crescent delivered 20,000 food baskets to the residents of Taez City.
That occurred after pro-government army soldiers and National Resistance Forces fighters, backed by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition’s forces, broke the eight-month siege of the city on Friday.
Rashad Al Aqhal, undersecretary of the Taez governorate, said the aid reached several affected areas.
Mr Al Aqhal said distribution of aid was carried out in a smooth and orderly manner, with the most underprivileged people given top priority.
*with reporting from Reuters