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Home > News > The Hijack: One Year On Feedback  
  December 19, 2000
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  The hijack Line
    The Rediff Interview/Captain Devi Sharan, commander of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight
    'Sometimes the hijackers suddenly appear in my dream'

    Captain Devi Sharan -- commander of the hijacked Flight 814 -- has been a busy man. Talking to newsmen. Writing books. Flying to the USA to collect an air safety award. Appearing before the CBI and FBI, agencies investigating that nightmare.

    Though Captain Sharan has been flying on various sectors since then, the faces of the hijackers still return to haunt him. "How can I forget the experience? While the others were worried about themselves, I was worried about the safety of the passengers. As captain of the flight, they were my responsibility," he says.

    He is scheduled to fly the New Delhi-Kathmandu sector on December 24, the day the Boeing was hijacked last year, along with IC 814 co-pilot Rajinder Kumar and flight engineer Anil Jaggia -- now on a job extension with Indian Airlines. Although Indian Airlines denies observing the day as an anniversary, some members of the cabin crew may also join Captain Sharan on the flight.

    In an exclusive interview to Special Correspondent Onkar Singh, the pilot looks back at the eight-day crisis that shocked the world.

    On December 24, it will be a year since the hijack. Have you forgotten the incident?

    How can I ever hope to forget an incident of that nature? I am living the incident every moment of my life. It remains on my mind. Not a single day has passed in the last year when I have not remembered details of the hijack. It is deeply etched in my mind.

    Since I was writing a book and giving interviews -- this provided another reason for me not to forget the incident. The book was released in September.

    Is it true you are flying the Delhi-Kathmandu sector on December 24?

    Yes, we have been asked to fly on the Delhi-Kathmandu sector on December 24. My co-pilot Rajinder Kumar and flight engineer Anil Jaggia will also be on the flight. I am not sure if the entire cabin crew will turn up for the flight, but some air-hostesses have volunteered.

    This is a sort of remembrance for that flight on that day. We would like to be together on this occasion. We would also like to send a message to the terrorists that no matter how hard they try to intimidate us, we will not get intimidated.

    'We would also like to send a message to the terrorists that no matter how hard they try to intimidate us, we will not get intimidated'

    Has anything changed in your life? Have the passengers been in touch with you?

    I have received lot of love and affection from the people world over, including the passengers on the flight. I have got an award for air safety from an American organisation. This year has been very pleasant for me because after the release of the passengers I have received attention from young and old alike.

    After a week's layoff you started flying again. How was the experience of flying after the prolonged hijack drama?

    I am paid for flying an aircraft. So I could not have sat back and said I will not fly anymore. I have enjoyed flying on almost all sectors whether domestic or international. I have been flying the Delhi-Kathmandu sector at least once a week. Besides, it was important that I shook off any feeling of fear and continued flying without any hindrance.

    Are you satisfied with the security arrangements at the Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu?

    Yes, I am satisfied with the security arrangements. We have an effective security check before a passenger is allowed to board the aircraft. We have our own people who frisk passengers and check for any weapon at the foot of the ladder leading to the aircraft.

    What lessons have you learnt from the incident?

    If you are asking what lessons I have learnt in person, then I can tell you that I am more alert than ever before. I am more careful. Of course, the people in charge of the security systems have learnt their lessons as well.

    Have there been moments when the incident has sent shivers down your spine?

    It happens almost twice a week. Even in my dreams, I can see those hijackers somewhere or the other. They keep coming back every now and then. Maybe at different places under different circumstances.

    I will not say this is some sort of a trauma but it is there. It will take sometime before it goes out of my mind. It was a close encounter with death. For eight days we did not know the possible outcome. We could only feel this was the worst time.

    But as captain I had to tell my passengers that we would get out of the situation soon. There were four or five of us who were determined that if they tried to kill us, we would fight them. I kept telling the passengers how to escape quickly and save themselves in case they threw a grenade. Sometimes when I am sleeping soundly they suddenly appear in my dream in different situations.

    'I kept telling the passengers how to escape quickly and save themselves in case they threw a grenade'

    When did they take over the plane?

    We were over Lucknow and had completed almost forty minutes of flying when a hijacker came into the cockpit and told us that we should not make any move as we have been hijacked. This was around 4.45 pm. Within five minutes, I could see four other people menacingly moving up and down the aircraft.

    First they told me to change the direction and fly west. Then they changed their mind and asked me to take the aircraft to Lahore. I had no option but to comply with their demands as they had so many weapons. Somehow I managed to convince them to land in Amritsar.

    We were there for 45 minutes. I was hoping that someone would have the sense to park the refuel tank in front of the aircraft. But nothing happened. Suddenly they got a phone call on their satellite phone and they panicked. They asked me to take off. They told me if I did not take off then they would start killing the passengers. They said they had killed four people.

    I sent Jaggia to confirm and he came back terrified. Then we tried to land at the Lahore airport after taking off from Amritsar airport. We were denied permission. They closed all the runways and shut down the airport lights. It was only after I told them that the plane would crash because of shortage of fuel that they opened one of the runways for the aircraft.

    Did you seek assistance at Lahore airport?

    'It was a close encounter with death. For eight days we did not know the possible outcome'

    I tried my best to persuade the airport authorities to offload ladies and children and the injured passengers Rupin Katyal and Satnam Singh. They told me that under no circumstances would they allow me to do that. Instead, they gave us fuel and asked us to take off.

    We then went to Kabul but were told the large aircraft could not land there, besides they have no landing facilities. Eventually, Dubai airport was willing to give us permission to land. We offloaded 26 passengers included women and children, the injured Satnam Singh and Rupin Katyal's body. After some rest we took off again and landed at Kandahar and were there till December 31, 1999 when we were eventually set free.

    You were not prepared to face the biting cold of Kandahar. How did you and the passengers manage?

    We were not prepared to go to a place like Kandahar. Nor were the passengers. Experience teaches you how to cope up with situations like this. Our main concern was how to get out of the situation and the bad weather.

    What was the attitude of those present at the airport?

    The whole thing looked like a planned affair. When we landed at Kandahar airport, the security guards were waving to the hijackers and the hijackers in turn were waving at them. When I saw this I said to myself that we were in a hostile place and could not expect any help from them. It took lot of effort to persuade the hijackers to offload Anil Khurana who was diabetic. We had to convince them that was no insulin (on the flight). It was after much reluctance that they allowed him to disembark.

    Are you concerned that your efforts have not been rewarded properly?

    For me my biggest award is the love and appreciation that I have received from the passengers and from people all over the world.

    Did the passengers and the crew show any signs of the Stockholm syndrome?

    On the face of it, we might have been friendly with the hijackers but deep inside we hated them. There was no question of being friendly with those who were hijacking us. Yes, when the whole thing was over, the chief hijacker told me to leave the plane as quickly as possible.

    Was it some sort of warning that they had planted bombs on the aircraft?

    On hindsight it seems so. But at that point of time he did not tell me why he was saying so.


How long can Captain Sharan hold on?

'They had a gun at my neck all the time'

The Nightmare of Flight 814: The complete coverage

The Hijack: One Year On


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