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Losing six members of the family in an air crash may be tragic, but waiting for the bodies without much hope nine days after the disaster can be much more devastating.
This is the plight of a Sharjah-based Lebanese couple, Jassem Farhat and Hiba Khazaal.
Hiba lost four of her close relatives on Jan.25, which turned out to be a “morning of nightmare” when an Ethiopian airliner carrying 90 people plunged into the sea off Lebanon just after takeoff in stormy weather. Two relatives of her husband passed away in the same disaster.
“Many questions have not been answered. We are mourning without even the bodies,” said the tearful couple in an exclusive interview with The Gulf Today.
Hiba works as a teacher in the Early Learning Section of the Victoria International School of Sharjah, while her husband Farhat is a Ras Al Khaimah government employee.
"Among the dead are our direct cousin, a new bride and his mother in law. My cousin, 33, was newly married and was travelling with his bride just a month after marriage," Hiba fought back her tears. Jassem added: "My cousin was 44 years old. He died along with his brother-in-law."
Hiba came to know of the news through parents who came to the school where she works. "They were all travelling to South Africa. How could one imagine they would land in the sea? I heard people talking about the tragedy in the lobby. I never dreamt that my relatives will also be among the victims. One of the victim's sister lives in Sharjah. A family member called to inform her," she revealed.
The plane, bound for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, burst into flames and plunged into the sea minutes after taking off from Rafiq Hariri International Airport amid violent storms on Jan.25. All 90 people aboard, including seven crew members, are presumed dead.
The exact cause of the crash is still unknown, although Lebanese and Ethiopian officials have ruled out sabotage as a possible factor. Agency reports mentioned that a body thought to belong to a victim of the plane crash was pulled from the sea on Tuesday. Rescuers reportedly found the body at a distance of five kilometers off Naameh coast.
Search teams have recovered 15 bodies and pieces of the plane, but hopes for finding any survivors have dwindled. Eight Lebanese citizens and an Iraqi have been identified, while five bodies are awaiting identification.
A DNA database has been compiled from blood samples taken from victims' relatives to help identify passengers.
"We agree that the Lebanese government is doing a lot. But much more can be done and in a better way," argues Jassem. "There is a major lesson to be learnt. Such disasters should not be allowed to happen again," echoed the couple.
"I could not control my grief and decided to return to work. My colleagues, family and friends have been a great support. Parents and wellwishers sent e-mails, flowers and other messages which helped me feel less tense," Hiba said.