It was 12 noon on Wednesday when a Turkish Airlines 722 Airbus was seen flying over Gazipur's Kashimpur area. The pilot announced that the aircraft was approaching Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) within a few minutes. The announcement was usual for the passengers – except the 28 crew members of a Bangladeshi ship that had been stranded and was subsequently abandoned at a Ukrainian port.
Minutes later, the "Fasten seatbelt" sign was like a cue to peer into the watery landscape that the plane flew over before it landed in Dhaka. The sound of the wheels touching land at around 12:10pm gave the 28 crew members the Antaeus-like effect – it was home, at last, and the nightmare was over.
"It's a miracle that we have returned home safely," Ramakrishna Biswas, second officer of the ship, told the media later.
Some of the exhausted crew members were beside the second officer. Their faces unshaved for days were behind masks, but their eyes spoke about sleepless nights for around a week. The sailors were supposed to return home by sea – as they do after every successful voyage. But this time was an exception.
"It was beyond our imagination that we would be able to escape the war zone this soon," said GM Noor E Alam, master of the bulk carrier "Banglar Samriddhi" that took a shelling at the Ukrainian port of Olvia and lost a seaman in the attack.
"Sailors from many big countries are still stuck in Ukraine as they are yet to be rescued. I would like to thank the prime minister for the arrangements to bring us back," Noor E Alam added.
En route to Italy, the ship got stranded at the Ukrainian port as the Russia-Ukraine war broke out on 24 February. Third engineer of the ship Hadisur Rahman was killed in shelling on 2 March, while the carrier too was damaged severely.
The vessel was declared abandoned the next afternoon and the remaining 28 crew members were evacuated. After crossing the Ukraine border, they travelled to Moldova and Romania to return home.
Recalling the shelling, he said they were on regular duty that afternoon. Following the attack, the ship's bridge caught fire as the sailors rushed to douse the blaze.
Noor E Alam said the channel of the port had been closed since the morning of the Russian military operation and it was not possible to leave the port with the vessel.
"We thank our countrymen for praying for us," he added.
Wait for Hadisur gets longer
Besides the relatives of the returning crew members, slain Hadisur's family also came to the airport Wednesday.
Hadisur's father Abdur Razzak Hawlader, mother Rashida Begum and two brothers Tariqul Islam and Golam Rahman Prince were waiting outside the CIP gate of the airport. They were uncertain whether Hadisur's body was being flown in. Later, they came to know that the coffin was not coming on Wednesday.
"Please bring the body as soon as possible so that we can give him a proper burial," Hadisur's brother Golam Rahman Prince urged the authorities.
"My brother always wanted to help people. He was our lone breadwinner. I would request the prime minister to take steps in this regard," he said.
According to the owner of the vessel, Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, Hadisur's body has been preserved in a bunker in Ukraine and will be brought back at a convenient time.
Hadisur's colleagues too condoled with the family and sought government compensation for them.
The foreign ministry's East Europe Director General Shikder Badiuzzaman said the authorities are yet to decide about the compensation.
"We are sincere about bringing back the body very soon, but we cannot announce a fixed date," he added.