Holding her new husband’s hand in one hand, and her bouquet in the other, Fay El Hanafy’s nerves began to disappear as she looked out the window at the scenic mountain backdrop.
She looked to her right and saw her husband, Mahdi Zougub, smiling as they flew across Canterbury’s Terrace Downs Golf Resort. Moments later the wedding photographer, Rachel Jordan, turned to the pilot and asked why the engine was not working.
The next thing El Hanafy, 23, remembers is waking up in the wreckage; her husband, 24, lying on the ground with blood on his face, appearing lifeless.
“All I remember is that I was screaming and saying, ‘please tell me it’s a nightmare, please tell me I’m dreaming’,” she recalls.
Newlyweds Fay El Hanafy (left) and Mahdi Zougub, had their June 12 wedding day cut short when their helicopter crashed. Both were seriously injured.
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“It was all perfect, and then all of a sudden I’m in a crashed helicopter … it’s like, ‘what’s happening?’ This is not what I was expecting on our wedding day, and I’m just like, what is this? Is it a wedding day or a nightmare?”
The Christchurch couple who were engaged for two and a half years had already postponed their wedding several times – once due to the March 15 terror attack, and then because of Covid-19.
Three weeks ago the big day finally arrived. El Hanafy slept only four hours the night before.
“I wanted everything to go perfect. I thought about millions of things that could go wrong on the day.
“The worst thing I thought would happen was that I would fall or something would go wrong during our first dance but not a helicopter crash, [I] never thought about it.”
This photo was taken by wedding photographer Rachel Jordan shortly before the helicopter she was in crashed at Terrace Downs.
El Hanafy rose early on June 12 and drove to Terrace Downs to get ready with her mother, sisters, and a friend.
“It was a really beautiful morning…. Everything was perfect.”
With her wedding dress on, she took photos with her family, before the small ceremony in front of their families about 1.30pm.
“Whenever I think of the day I try to think about the things I enjoyed, such as getting ready with my family and also just thinking about the ceremony and the moment that my husband saw me and I saw him. It was such a beautiful moment, it was very lovely, and it was full of emotions and full of love.”
After the ceremony, they took more photos and had canapés before the helicopter arrived.
Four people were injured when the helicopter crashed near Windwhistle, in the Canterbury high country.
El Hanafy was nervous about flying. But she was comforted by the pilot who said she was more likely to be in a car crash than a helicopter crash.
“I felt like even if I was a little bit scared from the flight, it’s fine, it’s worth it for me because I’m going to have these beautiful photos that I will remember forever.”
When she got into the helicopter with her husband and photographer Rachel Jordan, she held Zougub’s hand.
Before take-off she told Zougub she was scared. He tried to comfort her, telling her everything would be OK.
“As soon as the helicopter took off and I started seeing beautiful views from the windows I told him that I actually feel very happy, and I’m not scared anymore.”
The last thing she remembers before the crash is seeing Zougub smiling and then seeing the photographer turn to the pilot and ask why the engine was not working.
When she woke, El Hanafy was still in the helicopter. Her husband was on the ground with blood over his face.
Before passing out Zougub had given his phone to a golfer and asked him to call the last number in his phone log. It was El Hanafy’s father, who then rushed to the scene with her mother and others.
She recalls hearing her father scream out the couple’s names but struggles to remember anything else.
Zougub suffered a broken back, while El Hanafy broke her back, sternum, ribs, and foot. She requires surgery on her foot to be able to walk properly again.
Evan Jordan gives his mother, Rachel Jordan, a kiss before she gets an MRI. Rachel Jordan, a wedding photographer, was injured in the helicopter crash at Terrace Downs.
She does not remember anything from her first week in hospital due to the painkillers and other drugs.
The second week was a little better, but the last week had been the most challenging physically and emotionally.
Zougub was also struggling with his recovery. Bruising on his ribs makes breathing difficult, and he is unable to sit down long. He has also been having flashbacks and nightmares that wake him up at night.
The support from family and friends had been “huge”. El Hanafy’s mother had spent every night in hospital with her, and her father took two weeks off work to be by her side.
Photos taken by wedding photographer Rachel Jordan in a helicopter, shortly before it crashed at Terrace Downs.
A Givealittle page has also been created for the couple, with $13,000 raised so far. El Hanafy, who recently graduated with a masters in international relations and diplomacy, was hoping to find a job after the wedding. Now that has been put aside while she recovers. The couple have discussed having another wedding reception once they’re fully healed.
The owner of the helicopter, Wyndon Aviation, earlier said the inquiry was in its early stages, but the engine suffered a “total power loss shortly after take off”.
El Hanafy said at first she was angry, but after coming to terms with it, she feels fortunate that everyone survived.
“There’s two ways I look at it. Sometimes I look at how I was getting ready, and I was happy, and I’d just shared so many great moments and I look at the family and how happy everyone was and how happy I was.
“And then I look at it there’s another side of it which is the crash side, the tragedy side, but honestly I’m just happy that we all survived. I’m happy that I still have my husband.”