Real-life hero who inspired Airlift, Matthunny Mathews passes away

An Indian businessman played a significant role in the safe evacuation of stranded Indians during the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait in 1990. Matthunny Mathews the inspiration behind the movie Airlift passed away in Kuwait on Saturday. Mathews was 81 years old. He hailed from Kumbanad Pathnamthitta district in Kerala.

Mathews left for Kuwait in 1956, at the age of 20 in search of a job. He joined Toyota company as a typist and by the time he had retired in 1989 he had become its Managing Director. He started a car rental company and general trading company in 1990 after his retirement. Mathews was also the chairman of Jabriya Indian school. He was popularly known as ‘Toyota Sunny’.

Mathew was the real life hero who helped thousand of Indians flee the gulf nation during the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait in 1990. Kerala CM Pinnarayi Vijayan expressed his condolences. “He provided food and drinking water to stranded Indians and we remember it with gratitude.”

Bollywood Superstar Akshay Kumar who played Mathews on screen tweeted:

The 1990 airlift was carried out from August 13- October 20 1990 after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait. Air India helped evacuate 175000 people by civil airliners. The operation was carried out before the Gulf Persian War in 1990 to evacuate Indian expatriates from Kuwait. Following this operation Air India, the flag carrier Indian airline entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civil airliner.

Matthunny Mathews, Harbhajan Singh Vedi, Abey Varicad, VK Warrier, Ali Hussein and a few others based in kuwait helped immensely in the evacuation efforts of fellow Indians. Initial efforts were made by the Government of India to evacuate nationals by military aircraft. However, due to difficulties in air-space clearances the switch was made to civilian aircraft. India had initially requested permission to evacuate its citizens by Air India but the request was not approved by the UN and the Government of Kuwait in exile. India was required to use planes supplied to them under the UN banner. Complications arose due to the significantly higher number of nationals requiring evacuation.

The airlift was completed before the start of the Gulf war. About 1,11,711 people were airlifted from Amman, Jordan to Mumbai. Mathews will always be remembered as a hero of the 1990 ‘Airlift.’

Source: Wikipedia & Times of India

Alok Shetty