Thick clouds of black smoke and fire bellowed over the wreckage of the plane site. Heavy downpour made rescue efforts even more treacherous. It was a struggle just to see beyond the smoke or even breathe normally. The smell of death was palpable, with body parts scattered about the wreckage.
The site was of the crash of the ill-fated Airblue flight, which crashed into Margalla hills at 9:45am on 28 July, killing all 152 people on board including seven crew members.
Shouting around for any survivors, the rescue teams and volunteers collected and sorted out the body parts solemnly, piling them at one place and being careful not to mix them with other parts.
While national and international press was busy capturing and reporting the incident and so-called aviation experts and anchors added sensationalism to the accident, a few low paid employees stood out as the real heroes of the day with their integrity and honesty. Among these were M.Ikram (Rescue 1122), Jalil, Niamat and Saeed who are forests guards of the CDA, Chanzeb (ASF), Farooq Khan, Qazi Aamir Sohail, M. Asif, and Anwar Saeed of the CAA. As they recovered body parts and shifted them to safe locations in bags, they also handed over cash, jewellery and other valuables of the victims to the concerned officers of the CAA, police and the CDA.
More than a million ruppees and gold worth millions, cell phones and other valuable items, including credit cards, ATM cards, ready cash cards, cheque books and laptops were handed over to the concerned authorities by these men.
Ikram from the village of Misyari (Murree) was one of the first rescue officials to reach the crash site. During the rescue operation he recovered a number of cell phones, valuable documents, credit cards besides burnt dead bodies. He handed over to the CAA cash worth of US $1,800, Rs13,000 and Rs1,500 belonging to the victims of the crash.
Ikram lives with his small family in a modest house near Stadium Road, Rawalpindi. He joined the Rescue 1122 in 2006 and after passing the necessary fire and rescue training, was attached to the Chandni Chowk main office as a rescue fire official. He was involved in rescue operations of three main fire incidents of Faizabad, Rawalpindi, Lora-Hazara Hotel and Ghakhar Plaza Rawalpindi where he not only recovered injured bodies but also returned valuables and cash to the owners.
When asked if he was ever tempted to steal cash from the rescue site as no one was really watching him, Ikram confidently replied, “I have full faith that God is watching us all the time. Both my children go to school, are safe and sound and I am blessed in everyway. What else would I need?”
The forest guards of the CDA, Islamabad who participated in the search and rescue operation of the crash found and brought dozens of dead bodies, handed over a huge sum of cash to the CDA administration who later passed on the same to higher CAA and airport authorities.
“I could have taken away the cash without any hindrance but how much time would it have remained with me?” M. Jalil who works as a forest guard. “When we joined the CDA, we were trained and required to work with honesty. We are happy with our resources and live a peaceful life even on small salary,” they said. “At least we have never had to beg. We are least pushed with what others are doing as everybody is responsible for his own conduct.”
“The honesty of these low-paid employees and volunteers proves that honest and courageous people are still carrying the flag in our country and they should be saluted,” says M. Ayyaz Jaddon, the airport manager who along with his team of volunteers, remained posted at the site when the crash took place.
According to the details available, the rescue people also handed over cash of Rs29,000 which belonged to another crash victim. It was later collected by the legal heirs of the deceased. Similarly, the belongings of the member of the ‘Youth Parliament’ were also handed in.
However, when the nation was shocked at the worst air disaster in the country’s history, there were also some reports circulating that some miscreants tried to steal valuables strewn around the crash site. Local police recovered cell phones from two people near Faisal mosque.
“However no incident took place involving the arrest of a man carrying a human hand with gold rings as reported in the media,” said a shopkeeper in Kohsar. Small incidents always take place in these kind of situations but in my whole service in the CAA, I have never come across such people who can rightly be declared men of honour.
On the other hand, a battle between legal heirs of the plane crash victims on the compensations is also underway. According to a senior airline official, the claims are being taken care of to avoid any legal complications in future.
The Government should reward these men of honesty who despite financial crises and price hikes in the country did not compromise their integrity for money and valuables that literally fell out of the heavens to them.