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December 31, 1999
Hijackers got more weapons at Kandahar allege passengers
Josy Joseph, Onkar Singh, Tara Shankar Sahay at Delhi airport
"We almost died 32 times on board the flight," said P Bhojwani, a passenger aboard Flight 814. Another passenger alleged that the hijackers were provided Mausers and pistols at Kandahar airport.
Many passengers felt the hijackers obtained more weapons after they landed at Kandahar.
"They had a wireless set with which they were in constant touch with the ISI and getting their instructions from there," said a passenger who identified himself as Kharwar convincingly.
"The hijackers threatened to kill us yesterday," Inder Taneja told rediff.com on his arrival in Delhi tonight. "We were sure we would die. The deal came as a surprise."
"They used to hit us every day," another passenger, M P Tuli, said.
"We were convinced the hijackers would kill us," agreed Prashant Khandwankar, a resident of Bombay.
According to Khandwankar and another passenger from Delhi, Daman Sodhi, the hijackers terrorised the men thoroughly. Nearly 40 of them were crammed into the first-class section and forced to sit with their heads down. They were not allowed to use the toilets and were frequently beaten up and stabbed with the knives.
Khandwankar said the five hijackers were armed with knives, a gun each, bombs and "endless ammunition".
Sodhi, who sat right next to Rupin Katyal, the only man aboard Flight 814 to be killed, also said the hijackers terrorised them a lot, saying, "Your government will not save you. No one will come to save you. You guys are all going to be killed".
Sodhi said after Katyal, another man was to be killed and his (Sodhi's) turn was next. But for some reason they did not execute the plan.
But they treated the women and children better and did not harass them much, he added.
R K Ghosh, another passenger, felt "by and large the hijackers were okay, but they threatened us from time to time with a knife." He does not recall them ever brandishing a revolver. "We were very scared the day an Indian Airlines technician repaired the auxillary power unit. We thought the hijackers were fixing a bomb on the aircraft."
Ravi Ahuja, yet another passenger, said, "One day the hijackers told us, 'The Indian government has told us we can do what you want.' "
"God is great. Nothing else matters, but that we have returned safely and are well and alive," said a passenger who identiffied himself as Kathuria.
However, one of the passengers, Krishnanand Bhatt, who appeared to be in his late sixties and has a flowing beard, denounced the government for having released three terrorists to save him and the others. He said the government had done a wrong thing by giving in to the hijackers.
Captain D Saran, the commander of Flight 814, was given a tumultous reception by his colleagues and other staff, while co-pilot Captain Rajendra was sneaked out by his wife to Andhra Pradesh Bhavan. The cabin attendants and pursuer were taken to a five star hotel which the authorities refused to divulge. In all probability, Intelligence Bureau personnel will talk to them there.
Others on the flight say the hijackers were polite to women and did not bother them much. Passengers also reveal that never did they feel that they were not going to die.
It was only at 1600 today that the hijackers told them they were to be free.
The passengers were not allowed to move till 28 hours after the hijack. After that they could move around and talk. They were also not told that they were at Kandahar till later. But the hijackers told them they were negotiating with the Indian government.
Doctor Anita Joshi on board the flight, along with two other doctors and a French lady doctor, provided great medical assistance on the flight. Passengers revealed that together they saved at least half-a-dozen lives.
Says Pawan Mittal: "First we thought our government was doing nothing for our release, but the very fact that we are alive is because of the the blessings of this country and the good wishes of its people."
Another elated passenger Prashant Savarkar added: "Till this morning -- all these 8 days -- I had been saying my last prayers, but thanks to God's miracle we were suddenly told that we going to be freed. I thank Prime Minister Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and the prayers of our countrymen for our safe and sound return. I want to even thank the media which has highlighted this crime all over the world."
One of the passengers who walked out at Delhi airport was Gajendra Man Tamrakar, the Nepal citizen who the media alleged was the hijackers's accomplice. Tamrakar, who the Delhi police significantly did not pick up, asserted he had no role in the hijacking. "I was beaten up badly by the hijackers to be part of them," he said.
The passengers were met by anxious relatives with screams of joys and sorrow with relatives openly shedding tears and laughing at the same time.
The first flight, a Boeing 737, with 102 hostages landed at Delhi airport at 2047 IST.
The second flight landed at 2115 IST.
The first person to disembark was the passenger who was taken for medical treatment at Kandahar airport on Thursday. The other passengers looked pale and emerged to loud applause and cries of 'Bharat Mata ki Jai.' Many of them were whisked away from the tarmac itself.
Hundreds of relatives, many of them crying, others with bouquets, thronged the Delhi international airport. Embassy staff, representing countries with hostages on board, are also present.
After a quick medical check up, the passengers made their way quickly to two planes, the relief Airbus in Kandahar, and Jaswant Singh's Boeing 737. The reason for the haste: Kandahar airport, which has been their home for the last week, was neither Y2K compliant nor did it have facilities for a night takeoff.
Relatives of the passengers told rediff.com that they would have a joint thanksgiving ceremony tomorrow, visiting a gurdwara, church, mosque and temple in the capital.
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