On this day 17 years ago, Enama boat carrying 122 people capsized. The boat was traveling at nine and a half nautical miles per hour to Thinadhoo Island after watching their home team play a football match in Vilingili Island in Gaafu Alifu atoll when a wave overturned it.
Air traffic controller Mr. Saddam Ahmed Saeed who was also from Thinadhoo was stationed at Kaadehdhoo airport when he got a call that the MNDF coast guard is sending their divers from Male‘ to KDM onboard a Maldivian Dornier.
However, at this time the airport runway lights were inoperative due to a lightning strike that occurred a month earlier and it was already nighttime.
The Maldivian flight was operated by the former director of Maldives Civil Aviation, Captain Ibrahim Rasheed, and First Officer Mohamed Muja ( today Captain and DFO at Villa Air FlyMe). Coastguard divers and their gear were to be carried on board and the flight was operated with a special exemption from Maldives Civil Aviation.
The Captain informed to get the runway lights illuminated by the time they can arrive as they cannot risk waiting until sunrise.
The technician said it was near impossible to fix the lighting system within just an hour. Mr. Saddam thought for a while and came with an idea to fix tube lights at the four edges of the runway. (Note: those were the same tube lights that were used in roads during those days).
Lack of wiring made it challenging to get the tube lights fixed at the four edges of the runway and there wasn’t enough manpower to carry out the task quickly as many airport staff already have left to Thinadhoo after receiving information about the Enama disaster.
By the time Mr. Saddam went back to tower control, the Dornier aircraft was already tuned in to KDM and they reported they would require to divert to GAN if the lights cannot be turned on.
Mr. Saddam advised the technician and other staff at the airport to switch off every light at the airport. The entire island was dark apart from just the 4 tube lights.
Mr. Saddam also used the light signal at the tower to provide visual assistance to the aircraft. As the aircraft joined final approach for landing, the Captain reported “ this is more than enough, Thank you so much, we are landing" with a teary eye Mr. Saddam praised almighty Allah.
After landing Captain Ibrahim Rasheed asked how they managed to get the idea to fix tube lights in so little time, Mr. Saddam replied “I really don't know"
Among those that passed away in the disaster included relatives of Mr. Saddam. Sadly he was unable to attend the funeral as Mr Saddam had to remain in duty for all the search and rescue flights that followed after.