Saturday, September 5, 1998

Isle family
grateful for missing
Swissair flight

A sleepy boy, his mother
and his cousin couldn't make it
to the doomed Swissair flight

By Craig Gima


Despite his mother's urgings to wake up because they would miss their flight, 6-year-old Sam Yousef was just too fussy, tired and jet-lagged to get out of bed in time Wednesday morning.

It saved his life, his mother's life and the life of a cousin who happened to be on the same flight with them.

Sam Yousef They were originally flying to Israel on Air Canada, but had to make other plans when that airline went on strike.

When Sam couldn't wake up, the three missed their Delta Airlines flight from Montreal to New York and their connection on Swissair Flight 111 -- the plane that crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia killing all 229 people aboard.

Half a world away, in Honolulu, travel agent Michael Zawawi, spent a sleepless night watching news coverage of the crash and praying that he had not made travel arrangements for two people to die.

"I couldn't sleep," he said. "I saw the woman's face in my thoughts."

Zawawi didn't tell his friend, Waipahu resident Husein Sarameh, that Sarameh's wife and youngest son were on the passenger list for Swissair 111. He did not want to worry his friend until the news was confirmed.

But Sarameh suspected the worst.

He had not heard from his wife for more than 24 hours and she had promised to call him every six or eight hours.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The Huseins, in the family's Car Stereo Express store in
Pearl City, discuss their good luck. From left, Yousef Ahmed,
16; his mother, Carmina Ahmed; her daughter, Jaime Ahmed,
13; Husein Sarameh (center); his cousin, Steve Ahmed
and his uncle, Nafez Hasan

Thursday morning at 6:15 a.m. Hawaii time, Taghrid called her husband from the Tel Aviv airport. She did not hear about the Swissair crash until she landed.

"She was shaking when she heard that she missed the flight. She thanked God for what happened," Sarameh said, describing the phone call.

"I was really shaking. I was shocked. I was joyful and happy."

If his friend Zawawi had told him his family was on the passenger list, he said he would have been sick with worry. "I would have been in the hospital," he said.

"It was a miracle," Zawawi marveled. "It was an amazing thing that happened."

Zawawi explained that after missing the Delta flight, the travelers got on a bus for an eight-hour drive to New York in another attempt to make the Swissair connection.

The bus arrived at Kennedy Airport 40 minutes too late for them to catch the plane. "For some reason, she wasn't meant to be on that flight," Zawawi said.

On the night of the crash, Zawawi heard on the news that Air Canada passengers had been transferred to that plane.

He called the toll-free number that had been set up and confirmed a woman and child with the last name of Yousef were scheduled to be on Swissair Flight 111. But Swissair could not confirm if they had actually boarded the plane.

Zawawi frantically called several numbers for Air Canada in a desperate search for information.

"All I got was a recording saying call your travel agent and I was the travel agent," he said.

"I prayed to God that she would get there (Israel) and save her life and she wasn't on the Swissair flight," he said.

Photo provided by Husein family
Takreed and Husein Sarameh stand behind their children, from
left, Ashraf, 10, Niseren, 14, Samer, 6, Sammy, 16, and Yousef, 11.
Six-year old Samer, now dubbed 'Lucky Sammy,' was
the one traveling with his mother.

The next morning, when Sarameh told his friend that he had heard from his wife -- "I said thank God. I jumped like it was the biggest news of my life," Zawawi said.

Sarameh and his wife have been married for 16 years and have five children. His wife and children spend most of the year living on family land in Jerusalem. His wife also has family in Hawaii.

Sarameh manages the Car Stereo Express store on Kamehameha Highway and goes back to Jerusalem twice a year. His wife and son were returning after staying with him for two months. He left them in California after a short vacation.

"He (his son) didn't want to leave me," Sarameh recalled. "He held on to me at the airport and I told him no, you have to go with your mother."

Yesterday, Sarameh's relatives shook their heads in amazement as he retold the story at the car stereo shop.

Some of his wife's family will be arriving in Honolulu this weekend and the relatives are making plans for a traditional celebration to give thanks for "a miracle."

There will be stuffed leg of lamb and other Palestinian delicacies. Zawawi said he will buy a whole sheep for a sacrifice.

Sarameh will tell relatives he has a new nickname for his son.

He calls him "Lucky Sammy."

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