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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Anxious moments inside Flight 42
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Northwest Airlines aircraft at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport after turning back mid-flight
Dutch air force jets escorted the plane back to Schiphol
Sharad Menon was sitting close to the 12 passengers on the Northwest Airlines flight 42 who were arrested after plane changed course over Germany and flew back to Amsterdam airport on Wednesday.

The Brussels-based Indian said he noticed a "lot of movement" around where the 12 men were seated, though he did not see what exactly aroused the cabin crew's suspicion.

The 12 passengers, said to be of Asian appearance, reportedly aroused suspicion by fiddling with mobile phones and plastic bags. They have been set free and are expected to return to Mumbai on Friday night.

"The cabin crew made repeated announcements asking people to remain in their seats and switch off their cell phones," said Mr Menon, after landing in Mumbai on Thursday night.

"Then the stewardess finally said nobody should move and the next thing I saw, there were US air marshals standing around this group and the crew informed us that the plane was being taken back to Schiphol airport."

On the flight back to Amsterdam, the passengers were told to follow the instructions of the air marshals and the cabin crew.

'Nobody panicked'

Mr Menon said they were told to remain seated throughout and were not allowed to turn around or even go to the bathroom.

"People were apprehensive and could sense that there was trouble, but nobody panicked," he says.

Sharad Menon
Passengers were apprehensive and sensed some trouble, but nobody panicked
Sharad Menon, passenger

US air marshals apprehended the 12 men before the pilot diverted the flight and two Dutch F-16 fighter jets escorted it back to Schiphol.

Mr Menon said in spite of the inconvenience caused by the incident, he is willing to go through it again if it means ensuring safety of passengers.

Another passenger on the flight, Nitin Dalal, said the group was taken away by security officials for questioning after the plane returned to Amsterdam.

"Some of them were handcuffed but none of them offered any resistance when they were being taken out," he said.

"I am glad the airline took the necessary security measures to ensure our safety. I'd rather be safe than sorry."

Mr Menon said there is a "fear psychosis" among the crew of flying with people who dress differently these days.

Harrowing

"I wonder if the crew would have acted differently if there were 12 Europeans involved."

Co-passenger, Karan Singh, a 19-year-old university student from Canada, was headed to Mumbai to visit his parents.

He said he was asleep when all the action happened.

"It was only after we landed and I spoke to some of the other passengers that I realised what had happened."

While Karan was accommodated on a flight to Mumbai via Singapore within eight hours of landing in Amsterdam, many other passengers were put up at hotels for the night until they could be put on other flights.

Karan Singh
Karan Singh says it was a "bad experience"
Touching down in Mumbai after a harrowing journey that took more than 48 hours, Karan said he is happy to be back home safe and sound.

"It was a bad experience. Now I want to go home and rest."

The mid-air drama also caused tension for the families of the passengers here.

Leena Dharne was at the airport to receive her parents who were on the flight.

"When I first heard the news, I was very shocked and troubled. My parents were on the flight and I couldn't rest until I had heard from my father later in the evening, when he called to say that they were okay."

Mrs Dharne said the experience has left her very disturbed.

"We were lucky nothing happened, but what if something had happened? I am happy they took these security measures. My parents are arriving more than 24 hours after the schedule, but at least they are coming back safe," she said.


SEE ALSO
Dutch arrest 12 in flight alert
23 Aug 06 |  Europe
Plane note prompts airport alert
22 Aug 06 |  England
Woman held over plane diversion
17 Aug 06 |  Americas
Plane diversion reveals raw nerves
16 Aug 06 |  Americas
UK-US flight in emergency divert
16 Aug 06 |  Americas

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