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January 4, 2000
The Rediff Interview/Captain Devi Saran
SEE PART I:'They had a gun at my neck all the time'
'I must have died one hundred times while I was on board...'
What did they tell you to do once they announced the hijacking?
They said that they wanted to go to Lahore. They told me to do exactly what they wanted. They also asked to me clear with them whatever message I wanted to transmit.
Did you tell the Amritsar control tower that four passengers had been killed by the hijackers?
I did tell this to the air traffic control. I had to tell this because the hijackers forced me to tell this.
Could you and the other passengers hear the cries of the injured persons?
Because of the engine noise there was no way I could have heard the cries of the injured passengers. But to confirm what was happening in the aircraft I sent my flight engineer inside who came back with a cloth that a blood splotch on it. He told me about the injuries Katyal and Satnam had suffered. When he told me that they had slit the throat of two passengers I got frightened and decided that I must do something. The hijackers were getting impatient because they felt that they might be killed in Amritsar.
I delayed taking off as much as possible because I knew we were safe in Amritsar. But they were getting suspicious and that is why they kept on asking me to move the plane from one place to another and to keep the lights on till we took off from Amritsar. They started the reverse count. When they came to ten and they told me to move or else they would shoot me, I decided to take off. I took off because they had taken out the pins of the grenades and were ready to blow up the aircraft.
You flew from Delhi to Kathmandu, then from there to Amritsar. Then to Lahore from where you went to Dubai and finally to Kandahar. Didn't you feel fatigued?
I started to Delhi at five in the morning on December 24 from Hyderabad. From Delhi to Kathmandu. We took off from there for Delhi but landed at Amritsar after the hijack. Then we landed at Lahore. From there we took off for Kabul but Kabul refused to take us as it had no night landing facilities. Then we were diverted to Dubai. There we off loaded 26 passengers and the body of Rupin Katyal. Then I took off again and headed for Kabul but since Kabul refused permission we were forced to land in Kandahar. It was a long journey but I had to do it for the sake of the passengers. Once in Kandahar they asked me to get out of the cockpit and said they would summon me when they wanted my help.
Does it mean that you had no clue about the negotiations that were going on?
That was what happened exactly. They had learnt the functioning of the system from us and they did all the talking on their own without any assistance from us. If we were in the cockpit they would ask us to go out while they talked.
Is it true that they got more weapons at Kandahar?
Yes, this is true because I saw more ammunition in the cockpit after the aircraft landed at Kandahar. They had more weapons.
Did you ever feel that you were going to die?
I must have died one hundred times while I was on board till the time we got released.
Were the Taliban authorities of any help to you?
They were of no help to us, but to the hijackers they were definitely of great use.
Did the hijackers have a cellular or satellite phone with them to communicate with others?
I did not see any cellular or satellite phone with them. But they had two sets of walkie-talkie with them. With one they spoke to the control tower and with the other they spoke to someone else.
You said you had a contingency plan? What was it?
I told the passengers that if worse comes to worst, then we shall fight for our lives and try to save as many lives as we could. I showed them how to open the door, how to open the chutes and how to slide down. They were all ready to implement the plan but fortunately for us this opportunity did not come because if we had done so, we would have lost at least fifty lives.
Prime Minister Vajpayee has called you a national hero. What did you say to him when he told you this?
I told him that I was not a national hero. I had merely done my duty towards the nation, towards the passengers and towards the Indian Airlines for which I work. I am proud that I did it. I always thought that I would do it and I am happy that barring Rupin Katyal we are all back safe and sound.
Have you learnt any lesson from this incident?
Yes, I have learnt to be patient. Because it pays in the end.
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