Schools mourn for the pupils who will not return

Teachers and friends join together to hold remembrance services for those who lost their lives in the Air India Express flight.

A showcase displays a memorial to Ashton Saldanha at Emirates English Speaking School in Dubai.
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DUBAI // Ashton Saldanha was just five-years-old when he boarded the doomed Air India Express flight to Mangalore on Saturday with his father Denis. They were heading to a family function where Ashton's mother was waiting to be reunited with her son and husband. She will never see them again. Her loss was also being felt by others yesterday. The principal of Emirates English Speaking School (EESS), S S U Tabrez, paid an emotional tribute to his kindergarten pupil yesterday, one of 19 children aboard the Boeing 737 which overshot the runway and burst into flames.

"He was a very promising child," Mr Tabrez said of Ashton. "He already held his proficiency certificate in KG1, was a pretty boy and had a very bright future ahead. It's tragic." Mr Tabrez was only made aware of his pupil's death this morning, he said, and had spoken to his relatives. He had spent the weekend comforting a close friend who had lost four family members in the crash. The first thing he did on hearing the news about the KG2 pupil, he said, was to cross-check to see if there were any staff in Mangalore who could support his mother.

"He was a part of the family here," Mr Tabrez said. "We had a condolence meeting at the school for the child this morning. We can't say too much to the pupils, though, because of their sensitivities. They are very young." Mr Tabrez was unsure if Ashton's mother, who was not identified by name, would return to Dubai. "She is still in India and was due to come back to Dubai on the May 28, but there is no certainty now that she will want to come," he said.

An obituary board was set up in tribute to Ashton at EESS with a message that read: "Goodbye our friend Ashton. We all loved, so dear. We will miss your smiling face but you will always be in our hearts. We know that God will cherish you in His arms. So bye Ashton. May God be with you." The mood at Indian schools across the emirate was equally sombre yesterday as teachers and pupils tried to come to terms with a tragedy that had beset friends and family. Thomas Mathew, the principal of Our Own English High School, led a remembrance gathering yesterday for 15-year-old Akshay Bolar, a grade 12 student who was travelling with his mother and grandmother. "All of Akshay's friends had come for the condolence meeting," he said. "It was a very emotional moment."

At Al Majd Indian School, the principal, Rafiq Rahim, said the school's 830 pupils and staff had observed a minute's silence for the victims of the air disaster at a general assembly and that teachers were wearing black ribbons.