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"We died 36 times"
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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 09:52 GMT
Hostages recount hijack ordeal

The passengers were blindfolded and threatened with death

The hostages freed from the hijacked Indian Airlines plane have described their eight-day ordeal, saying their captors were cruel and threatening.

"I experienced death for seven days. I never thought I would come back," said one passenger, Neelam Champa.

Hijack Special Report
"The hijackers were inhuman and kept on frightening us.

"Every half hour they would say that our government was not concerned about us and it was not doing anything for us," said businessman Ashok Chawla.

The 160 passengers and crew were greeted by cheering crowds of family and well-wishers as they emerged one by one at the Indira Gandhi international airport in New Delhi.

Some were crying, others shaking and some smiling as they were driven home or to hospital for check-ups or treatment.

Pilot Devi Saran: "I feel on top of the world"
One in particular was beaming - the pilot, Devi Saran, who was carried aloft by a cheering mob with a garland of roses around his neck.

"I am feeling on top of the world," he said. "I have done it. I always believed I would do it."

Businessman Devinder Singh collapsed into the arms of his family.

"I love you all very much. I was thinking of you all the time," he repeated again and again.


The passengers said the hijackers had threatened them with death, kept them blindfolded for most of the time, and been extremely frugal with rations after commandeering the plane on 24 December shortly after take-off from Nepal.

Passengers: Traumatised but most survived
"They are killers and murderers," said passenger Sanjeev Chhabra. "They are very, very cruel people."

Passenger Inder Taneja said the hijackers had warned them: "We are going to kill you one by one."

He said the hijackers had repeated the threats three or four times when they felt talks with Indian negotiators had broken down, but later changed their minds.

The hostages did kill one passenger, new husband Ripon Katyal, who was fatally stabbed apparently after disobeying orders not to look at the hijackers.

Passenger Kanika Mathani said Rachna, wife of the dead man, had not known that her husband had died due to injuries inflicted by the hijackers.


"Everybody was just praying and praying," said passenger Ranjit Laturia.

One passenger was so relieved he kissed the New Delhi ground
"So many times I thought I would never come back alive," said Rajiv Ahuja.

There was a rare moment of kindness. A woman who identified herself only as Mrs Kataria said the hijackers gave her a scarf as a gift on her birthday, on 27 December.

Prashant Khandelwarkar said the captors were "nice to the ladies but were cruel to the men".

"They beat us up," he said. "They were on the verge of killing us on Thursday [when negotiations with the Indian authorities were briefly deadlocked].

"They were also stingy with food rations," he said. "I lived on half an orange a day."

Children had not been allowed off the plane
The plane was flown first to Dubai, and then Kandahar in Afghanistan, before the passengers were released.

Janak Shreshta, from Nepal, said the hijackers "had only grenades and revolvers and knives in the beginning", but "their weapons increased" in Afghanistan.

Vipin Menon, said the hijackers, "who were masked," had "guns, revolvers and grenades".

"Throughout the first four days during most of the time we were blindfolded and asked to keep our heads down," he added.


Subhash Kumar, 47, who was rushed to hospital suffering high blood pressure and hypertension, said many, including him, had hardly slept throughout the ordeal.

The ordeal ended when the hijackers left following a deal with the Indian government
"I told the hijackers I needed my supply of Tenormin as I suffer from very high blood pressure. But I could only get some angispam pills from a French lady doctor who was held hostage with me," said Kumar.

"I was terribly dehydrated as I only got two glasses of water throughout the day and one orange for lunch yesterday."

Many passengers were taken to the Ram Monohar Lohia Hospital for treatment.

Hospital doctor Indira Bammi said the passengers had suffered in various ways.

"Most of them are showing classic symptoms of stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression," she said.

"They are also undergoing metabolic disorders such as loss of appetite, constipation and dehydration because of food, water and sleep deprivation."

Some passengers did not want to describe their ordeal at all.

Suman Brar, who was forced to stop at hospital because he was bleeding from mouth ulcers, said: "I just want to get to the quiet of my home and escape from all these cameras and journalists."

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
In pictures: The end of the hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijack hostages welcomed home

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