Three years on, memories of crash of Air India's Dubai flight still haunt

This week marks the third anniversary of the crash of Air India Flight 812, as survivors and families of victims recount the ordeal.

Mayan Kutty is one of the eight survivors of the Air India Express flight from Dubai which crashed in Mangalore in 2010. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Three years after his infant son died along with 157 others on the Air India Express flight from Dubai that crashed in Mangalore, Shafqat Mahamood grapples with bittersweet memories and heartbreak.

The birth last month of a daughter brought him joy but was also a reminder of the brief time he had with his eight-month-old son.

His wife, son and two aunts died when Flight 812 overshot the runway on May 22, 2010. They were travelling to India for a family wedding.

“It has changed me,” Mr Mahamood said. “I’m not same person I used to be.

“God has given me a beautiful daughter and I will take care of her. I hope she stays with me lifelong, but then I had the same expectation for my son.”

Mr Mahamood, an information technology manager who was born and raised in the UAE, remarried last year. He will spend quiet time in prayer next week to remember his loved ones.

“In life you cannot guarantee anything,” said Mr Mahamood, whose supportive family and friends helped him get through.

“I must have the strength to cope with living like everyone else is doing. My daughter’s first eight months will be a reminder of my son. My wife understands what I’ve been through. But the past is past and I should not be disturbing others with it.”

The tragedy also haunts Mayan Kutty, one of eight crash survivors, who works for a real-estate company in Umm Al Quwain.

“Until I die, I will remember the children and women screaming and see the flames,” he said. “My hand shakes when I hear the sounds. I pray these images will go away.”

Mr Kutty’s anxiety prevented him from boarding a plane for six months after the crash and he has never returned to southern India’s Mangalore airport.

He flies instead to neighbouring Calicut airport even though it is a longer journey to his hometown, Kannur.

“To get on a plane is difficult because I think I will die,” he said. “I still can’t understand why I survived. I can never be happy on May 22 because so many people died.

“I thank God for saving me and ask Him to help the families of those who died.”

Relatives appear resigned to a prolonged wait for a compensation verdict from India’s highest court because of the country’s slow judicial system. Air India paid 1.15 billion rupees (Dh76.4 million) in compensation claims last year.

But families have sought compensation as per the Montreal Convention, which India has signed and ratified.

The convention requires airlines to pay compensation to families of 100,000 Special Drawing Rights, which are a mix of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund, per passenger. In this case, it is equal to 7.5m rupees (Dh535,295).

India’s Supreme Court adjourned a hearing scheduled for last month to November to give the federal government time to respond to the interpretation of its legislation on the Montreal Convention.

Abdul Razak, a member of the Mangalore Air Crash Victims Association, said he hoped the verdict would be pronounced within a year. “Two to three judges were transferred,” Mr Razak said. “I don’t think the intention is to delay but it is being postponed due to technicalities. It may take six months to a year for a judgment.”

Dubai resident Abdul Rahman, who lost his son and wife in the crash, also hoped for clarity.

“It is being treated as a special case and should be cleared within a year,” said Mr Rahman, an operations manager with a shipping company.

Sanjay Hegde, the victims’ lawyer in the Supreme Court, said the case was adjourned to give India’s civil aviation ministry time to respond.

“The case involves interpretation of a section of the Air Carriage Act that is based on the Montreal Convention,” Mr Hegde said.

"When any central government legislation has to be interpreted, they [the government] have to be heard. It is giving them opportunity to reply."