Escaping the inevitable

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

Story by Neelanjan Suresh

It was a usual day when I boarded the Emirates EK 521 at 10.34 a.m. from Trivandrum to Dubai along with my mothe

r and sister. It was August 3, 2016 - the day when I had no idea we were about to make turbulent history.

I was seated in a different cabin from my family. Once the flight started its descent, the journey was smooth thereafter. After some time, the pilot announced to prepare for the landing quite inexpressibly. I decided to take a quick nap before we land.

The next thing I remember was the flight crash landing with a thud and immediately taking off. The cabin crew were also surprised. The plane landed again in a jiffy, but it didn't stop and hurtled on the runway, causing a sprain on my neck. I could hear the screeching of the wheels. All of us were confused yet calm enough.

When the flight started to get filled with thick, black, toxic fumes that suffocated us and we realised that the flight might burst at any moment, that's when we were panic-stricken. The firefighters arrived within a few minutes, while the cabin crew kept screaming ‘Evacuate.'

They tried opening the emergency chute of one of the exits, but were unsuccessful. They informed us it had some technical issue and instructed us to go for the other ones.

The flight turned chaotic. I saw other passengers crying and praying for their lives. I was lost and couldn't comprehend what was going on. But I managed to muster courage and followed their instructions to leave the flight safely.

After I rolled down the hot, rubbery chute onto the runway, I ran towards the rescue area in search of my family as I didn't see them throughout this ordeal, unknown to the fact if they were safe. That's when I heard an ear deafening explosion behind us. As I turned back, I saw the flight ablaze. Everyone was in distress and shock. There was bedlam all around.

On reaching the rescue area, I couldn't find my mother and sister either. That's when I heard the wailing of an ambulance siren. It brought along the last group of passengers from the flight and everyone rushed towards it. In that moment, my willpower almost crippled.

Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and rushed towards the ambulance in the hope of seeing their faces and there they were; alive and unscathed. I can’t explain the wave of relief that swept over me that moment.

Being a fifteen-year-old then, I didn't ever imagine that we'd end up in the first fatal crash in Emirates' 35 years of aviation history. Some of my friends and acquaintances were either excited to know about the compensation we received or acted like this accident never took place.

The flight crash was traumatising. It left me with a fear of loud noises. Being someone who always had a mild fear of flying, it worsened. A few months after the incident, I spoke to a psychologist but that was just a few sessions before my first flight after the accident.

Every flight since then has been a struggle. But I've come a long way; tried and tested different approaches to keep my fear under control. I still feel queasy and panicky before a flight, but I'm immensely happy about my progress.

I can't be grateful enough to the Almighty for this miraculous escape from the clutches of death and the cabin crew and firefighters who acted quickly, resulting in 300 alive passengers except a firefighter who lost his life while fighting for us.

Trauma never leaves; even after years of the mishap, I still get goosebumps when I think about that day when I escaped death with the uncertainty of my family's survival.

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