Fated in Philly

Titan victim had local connections and eerie foreshadowing. 

The news last month about the Titan disaster made waves around the world, and also here in Philly, where one of the submersible’s ill-fated passengers had a local connection. Pakistani tycoon Shahzada Dawood is an alumni of Philadelphia University, graduating in 2000 with a Masters of Science degree in Global Textile Marketing. He and his 19-year-old son, Sulaiman Dawood, are now both presumed dead; indeed, human remains have been recovered from the wreckage (the vessel most likely imploded, instantly killing all five men aboard).

Weird But True Story: this was not the first time one of Dawood’s adventures tried to kill him. 😱

In 2019, his wife Christine wrote a harrowing blog post describing a terrifying flight the couple experienced, when their plane suddenly lost altitude and began to jerk and shudder in the air. It’s a compelling account of what goes through a person’s mind in such a drastic situation, when they’re facing what could be the final moments of their lives:

The whole cabin let out one simultaneous cry, which turned to a whimper and then silence. Dead silence.

The plane plunged again and shook left and right. I felt like a grain in a big bag of sand or a boxer being soundly defeated – punched from all directions. I clutched my armrests as if that would make a difference. I needed something to hold on to, something stable in a shaky metal tube thousands of feet above the ground.

I’ve read many times that people pray in such situations or that their life flashes like a movie. My husband told me later that he was thinking of all the opportunities he’d missed and how much he still wanted to teach our children.

My thoughts weren’t that selfless, though. They were quite the opposite. All I could think of was how much I had abused my body. I made a deal then with God, the universe — whoever was listening. “Let me land safely, and I’ll never touch a cigarette again.”

The mumbling got louder. Some were praying, I’m sure, and some were just nervously talking. I heard a cry here or there and a few swear words thrown in for good measure. I realized people were falling back on their natural coping mechanisms, and mine was calmness. Not the good kind, though. It was the stillness stemming from absolute terror. I was frightened like never before in my life. I couldn’t even wipe away the tears running down my face or move my head to look around.

The shaking started again. Even heavier than before if that was even possible. I don’t know how long it took for us to land. Five minutes? Ten? I started praying then, chanting the same phrase over and over again. I transported myself into a form of trance, still holding the armrest on one side and my husband’s hand on the other. I blanked out the noise and buried myself in a hidden place deep inside.

After several minutes of terror, their airplane touched down – crisis averted, yet Christine was forever changed. This incident became the push she needed to change careers, and find a whole new path in her life as a psychologist. Quite a jump from engineering, a profession she followed because a teacher once noted she was good with numbers. Today, she provides coaching, training, assessments and support specializing in family businesses through her website nextstepnow.com.

For a married couple, it’s interesting that their individual reactions to a near-death experience could be so different. Frozen in crisis, Christine came out of the ordeal seeking more meaning in her life through work. Her husband, however, was struck with regrets of missing out — a mindset associated with risk-taking behaviors (especially impressive challenges and accomplishments). Perhaps this first brush with mortality helped drive Shahzada to his last expedition? We’ll never know.

Sadly, the Dawood’s own family business – one of Pakistan’s largest corporations – has lost a key leader, and cut short his legacy. The family posted this message on social media:

“Surely we belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return”

It is with profound grief that we announce the passing of Shahzada and Sulaiman Dawood. Our beloved sons were aboard OceanGate’s Titan submersible that perished underwater. Please continue to keep the departed souls and our family in your prayers during this difficult period of mourning.

RIP Shahzada and Sulaiman Dawood.

Afterword: Experts around the world are tracking a post-pandemic surge in extreme tourism. The Titanic is just one of many thrills the uber-wealthy are seeking to check off their bucket lists. Others include scaling Mt Everest, trekking the South Pole, and even going to outer space —  Virgin Galactic offers a 75-minute suborbital ride for a mere $450,000 (and there’s a wait list!). Godspeed to all the billionaires out there, hope you find what you’re looking for.

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