View Full Version : NWA Captain's Account of the Oberoi (Mumbai) Terrorist Take Over

9th Dec 2008, 19:39
The following e-mail was forwarded to me by a good friend at NWA and I thought that perhaps I can share it with everyone here;

"To all my friends and relatives, It has been a week since F/A Daryl J. and I were released from the Trident/Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India.

First, a sincere and heartfelt “Thank you” to all for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. Believe me when I say, “we needed them!” Here’s my story: Timel ine starts Wednesday night 26 NOV (all times local BOM)

2100: Returned alone from dinner(luckily not Leopold’s). Headed down to 10th floor aircrew lounge to use the computer. Made a couple of calls to the USA using Skype connection.

2155: Returned to room #1510 and realized I had missed my 2150 wake- up call. Noticed message light NOT flashing. Almost immediately heard what sounded like loud firewo rks coming from the street level. My room faced the water. Peaking outside, I saw no unusual activity. The noises continued. I started to think that the cadence was unusual and not really like fireworks.

2205: I then decided to call reception to find out if the flight was operating on time---no answer at the front desk. I then called the hotel operator---no answer! At this point I started to think “terrorist attack” The hotel is extremely customer oriented and they normally pick up the phone on the first ring.

2210: Looked out the window to see if there was indeed any panic in the street. Everything appeared normal. Nobody running around etc. I start to think that my imagination was getting the best of me. Surely if there were terrorists shooting up the lobby that the people walking around outside the hotel would be running around seeking shelter. At this point I made an unfortunate and almost &nb sp; fatal tactical error. I decided to go down to the lobby to get some first hand info on our pick-up time.

2212: Still wearing jeans and a golf shirt, I jump into the elevator. As I descended toward the lobby I had a thought. “If there are terrorists in the hotel-maybe I should stand closer to the side(by the buttons)of elevator car. Don’t want to give the bastards too easy a target!

Elevator doors open and I see a pool of blood directly in front of me. I hear screaming and moaning I immediately realize that my worst fears have come to fruition. I press the button to close the doors and simultaneously look up past the blood and see a guy, who has just noticed me, holding an AK-47. He turned toward me and fired just as the doors were closing. If the doors had not closed as quickly as they did I’m sure I would have been toast.

2215: Ran like lightening back to my roo m and locked myself in. At this point it took a few minutes to “get it together”. Had to really concentrate on exactly what course to take. With all my lights off, I again peaked out between the curtains.

2220: While looking out side, I heard the first of many loud explosions and saw pieces of the hotel falling into the street below. This one sounded like it came from just to my left and above. (in retrospect, I believe some of these bombs were planted days earlier by sleeper cell employees) Glad they hadn’t chosen my roo m!!

2230: “Breaking News” on the attacks was just starting to hit the TV airways when they reported that my hotel was on fire. Not surprising considering all of the explosions. I started to feel very helpless. I faced an unenviable quandary, if I left he room I’d probably be shot, but remaining in burning hotel was almost as unappealing.

2245: Made contact with Northwest Airlines SOC in Minneapolis. Fortunately, they were in contact with my 2 First Officers who were outside the hotel(another story). They were able to conclude that the Trident(my) side of the hotel was not on fire. Amidst all this horror, a little good news goes a long way.

The terrorists occupied various section of the Oberoi/Trident Hotel complex for about the next 37 hours. I won’t go into the hostage taking and other atrocities. These were all well reported by the various news outlets throughout the Thanksgiving holiday. Eventually our TV, internet and hot water were cut off. The hotel phone continued to work and I was able to keep in contact with NWA and my family. I was also in contact with Daryl who was on the 23rd floor. As time slowly dragged on, I found myself going through periods of hope and despair. I was hopeful when the sun finally came up and I could see Indian soldiers on the sidewalk below. Though intermittent explosions could be heard, I continued to hope for some good news from NWA but the status quo prevailed. “Hotel not secure--do not move” I started feeling badly for the men and women with whom I spoke. I knew that they wanted desperately to give me some good news. The SOC, Chief Pilot (thanx OC) and NWA security did a super job keeping us informed as best they could. Information was at a premium.

About mid-afternoon on Thursday I was told that our evacuation would happen within the hour. This was a real high point. Sadly, no one c ame. And when the sun started to set I began to think I’d never get out. Soon after, I found out the the last NWA A330 out of town had just departed for AMS--without us. A very sinking feeling.

Halfway through the night I heard a door open in the hallway. Using my peep hole, I could see people across the hall carefully sticking their heads out of the room. They were Lufthansa flight attendants. I was really glad to find that I was not completely alone. I was told that their Purser was on the 17th floor and had informed them that Lufthansa was sending an A319 rescue aircraft. This was very uplifting news. I called Daryl to tell him that we had a “for sure” ride out of town.

The next morning at about 11:00 we were evacuated by the Indian Army. The walk through the lobby was sobering. Looked like a war zone. Details later(preferably at the Belgique). After out-processing, we, along with Lufthansa and Air France crews were bussed to a hotel near the ai rport. After a hot shower and some lunch, we were boarding the Lufthansa A319. (about 1800 Fri eve)

I can’t thank Lufthansa enough. They sent their head flight surgeon, psychologists and all crew members had been trained in Critical Incident Stress Management. We could lean a lot from them.

We were then met in FRA by Lars Reuter and Bob Polak from AMS. They were awesome. Met us in the middle of the night, had our hotel accommodations and follow-on travel arranged. Again, “Thank you Lufthansa” for the first class seat to BOS.

In BOS, I was surprisingly met at the aircraft door(upstream of customs!!) by my family and my dear friend, BOS manager Tommy Neylon. Tommy even had the State Police watching our cars at the curb-right in front Terminal E(Tommy knows everybody!!!)

I’ll save all my lessons learned captain stuff for a different audience.

Thank You to all, Cheers-Capt. Thomas B. Xxxxx"

10th Dec 2008, 05:47
Thats Scary ! Must have been a tough ordeal too..:ooh:

Guava Tree
10th Dec 2008, 06:10
I don’t know if you have ever before been so lucky in your life, but from your account, I can say that as you descended in that lift you were very, very lucky to be, really, not alone in that lift.
Thank you.

10th Dec 2008, 09:46
That's a very scary and sobering tale. Thanks for sharing it.

10th Dec 2008, 10:18
I missed the previous bombing by a week (a taxi blew-up at the Gate of India and destroyed the Taj lobby in 2003)...
I am glad that my company left the Taj 2 years ago for price reasons.
The Oberoi and the Taj will always be prime targets in Kolaba.
Security screening at Indian airports is useless.
But an employee managed to empty part of my shaving foam in my flight bag before the current restrictions were introduced. :}
I wish everybody could do back-to-back so we, crew, present less of a target...

10th Dec 2008, 11:43
As it is only my second posting here I apologise before I begin but as a pax this story is pretty scary and brought home to me the dangers you guys and gals face flying around the globe in uncertain times

10th Dec 2008, 11:50
Excellent time line description of the events in Mumbai.

The government had advance intelligence of the impending attacks… consisting of methods, dates and locations. The Taj’s security chief also had advanced warning too. Now that's criminal:=! I am curious to know if the Government passed any of this intelligence to carriers that operate to Mumbai or the US State Department.

Current and potential contracting pilots should reconsider the prospects of flying and being based in India. Security in India has never been one of their strong points.

10th Dec 2008, 12:07
What a nightmare.

Wish you all the best.

10th Dec 2008, 18:23
Sorry to hear what you have been through but still happy you got out safely
Good Luck in your future Flights :)

11th Dec 2008, 23:20
I am glad you came out unharmed.I hope that your colleagues, and those of other airlines, will recover from this sad harrowing experience.
Our thoughts go out to those who didn't make it to safety.
Best of luck.

11th Dec 2008, 23:38
Thanks for that (pretty understated) post, Taikonaut.

Looking beyod the horror of being hunted and shot at, what your post and those of others brought home to me was the importance of understanding the layout of the hotel one's in. A few years ago an (LA?) ex-firechief posted some very good tips on survival of hotel fires on Pprune. Worth re-reading if the thread's still on the server.

Ignition Override
12th Dec 2008, 03:49
Welcome back Taikonaut, to you and your other crewmembers!

On the van to n**** we heard about the basic events.
Can not imagine a closer call. What an eternity waiting for help.
Why don't Indian police forces not only have "SWAT Teams", but replace all of the old Lee-Enfield, bolt-action rifles and equip all of their police/army troops with the semi-auto. FN FALs (other than snipers) or the G-3? My SKS would be much better than a LE.
Is this (apparent) lack of specialized, commando police forces also a typical situation in other Asian cities?

Hope you enjoy the rest of the month.

12th Dec 2008, 15:11
Not really sure that the outcome would have been significantly different if a similar style suicide attack was mounted in London, Paris or NYC.

There is a saying that Generals are always fighting the last war not the next one, the same seems to hold true to terrorist incidents.

Whats next ?

12th Dec 2008, 21:37
Wow Taikonaut... Goosebumps all over the place when reading your report...

I cannot even start to imagine what you have been through... At LH internally I read similar stories from our F/As.

I am happy you got out unharmed, I wish you all the best with dealing with these horrible experiences in the coming months.


12th Dec 2008, 23:26
Why don't Indian police forces not only have "SWAT Teams", but replace all of the old Lee-Enfield, bolt-action rifles and equip all of their police/army troops with the semi-auto. FN FALs (other than snipers) or the G-3? My SKS would be much better than a LE.

Re their equipment, perhaps they spend all of their spare cash on their nuclear and space programs?

12th Dec 2008, 23:45
Thanks for that (pretty understated) post, Taikonaut.

Looking beyod the horror of being hunted and shot at, what your post and those of others brought home to me was the importance of understanding the layout of the hotel one's in. A few years ago an (LA?) ex-firechief posted some very good tips on survival of hotel fires on Pprune. Worth re-reading if the thread's still on the server.

RE above, remember a 'good old boy' Safety type ex Conoco/Dupont and not normally a type of guy I would listen too, suggesting that when travelling any where - a sensible piece of 'Survival Equipment' would be a roll of 'Gripper/Gaffer Tape' to seal room doors etc to prevent smoke ingress ETC!!!


PZU - Out of Africa (Retired)

13th Dec 2008, 08:24
That the first responders(both local police and hotel staff)took casualties,and to some extent kept the perpretators from taking large numbers of hostages,speaks well of their sense of duty, but ofcourse highlights the lack of adequate equipment/training/tactics.
The moving 1st person account by a cabin crew member(in the cabin crew forum) of the same NWA crew(he mentions having to leave the Capt behind)shows how hotel security and local police(now armed with automatic weapons)leads them to safety within a couple of hours of the event having started.

It is unlikely however ,that first responding local police forces in many cities(Including in the west)would have had the firepower required to pin down a similar attack within the short time in which they caused the max innoccent casualties by opening automaic fire in crowded locations(numerous US school shootings being case in piont)
The equivalent of Swat teams (the NSG) were on site in about 6 hours and conducted their operations over the next couple of days without causing any hostage casualities(using deleberate single shots despite having automatic firepower)but taking a couple themselves.

Hard questions are being asked by the Indian public of their politicians,and heads have already rolled.An effort is also being made to channel the public pain and anger caused by this outrage,to ensure actual steps on the ground.
These steps should hopefully see a better preparedness to respond to a similar crisis.
But more importantly,Global Efforts are called for,to prevent it from ever hapening agian, by properly investigating this event and nailing the problem at its source.
And if we pause to think,like in the west,these acts are by troubled young people,only in this case they (like countless others)have been manipulated by medival organizations who want to drive the world back to the middle ages.

If these guys manage to get hold of a nuke next time,it will take more than a rescue flight/delusional notions of sovereignty(of the state from where these"non-state" actors operate) to keep clear of the radiation fallout around the globe.
Perhaps then the survivors will get to address real issues like Global Warming and Hunger(hope not!)

13th Dec 2008, 10:22
First of all, I must apologize for the misunderstanding. I've gone back and read the post and I can see how misleading it was. My bad.

I'm not the said Captain at the Oberoi. The e-mail was forwarded to me by a good friend at NWA and I thought that perhaps I can share it with everyone here.

I will now edit the post with the proper explanation to the account. Thank you for your understanding.

13th Dec 2008, 15:19
Please thank your friend, and thanks for sharing his notes. I for one hope his experiences don't live with him as disturbingly as similar ones have for some of us. Re response delays, and how UK authorities might react in similar circumstances, the only limitation will be political leadership at the critical moment...there's precious little wrong with the guys who would be asked to perform at the cutting edge, so long as there are enough of them at home, and that their equipment (and training) is as good as it will need to be. So let's keep our fingers crossed. There but for the grace of God, etc.

13th Dec 2008, 20:18
No need to apologize!

This makes interesting reading and shows how lucky the rest of us have been though our years in hotels. Your friend has someone watching over him!:ok:

My heart stopped when reading about those lift doors opening!

Double Back
14th Dec 2008, 06:51
Brings back memory of one pitch black African night when I woke up with riot like noises on the streets, people running up and down, húndreds of them.

Like in this thread, for a few minutes I just sat down in my room, trying to comprehend the situation, planning my next step. Same doubt as in this thread in deciding to go down to the lobby or lock myself up.
Flashes of the whole hotel being "cleaned" by a blood thirstly, money hungry and foreigner hating machete armed mob flashed through my mind.
The situation really scared the &^%$ outta me, dáng, did I feel helpless for a second.

Many African states are so politically unsteady, this could be a real scenario. Things can turn ugly overnight there.

It turned out they were celebrating some political event! They just had fun!

Airlines might consider "training" crew for this kind of danger. As flying itself gets more and more difficult to target, these fanatics are looking for easier opportunities.

When I started flying long haul some 30 years ago, there were a few large hotel fires each Year worldwide. That really scared me so much I always carried an emergency escape rope with me for a few years. But then hotels got higher! But also got sprinklers etc so I stopped taking it with me.....
Sickening idea to spend a lifetime training to control all kinds of airplane related risks, and getting choked in a hotel room....

15th Dec 2008, 01:02
Dear Collegue.. a bit Off Topic..therefore you re not the author of this report...is the original author aware that his email is posted here..??open for the worldwide audience?? Stating full names,details within the report?Don t misunderstand me..surely it is interesting to read it..i know the hotel myself and left about 10 days before the killings...but i personally wouldn t like,that something designed for my friends and relatives is accessible for basicly anyone.. Best regards

15th Dec 2008, 06:01
Frabase, I understand exactly where you are coming from hence the deletions of last names. I thought the information was worth sharing and it didn't seems to contain anything personal other than the actual experience of the event.

If this post is becoming an issue, then I will ask the moderator to delete the thread. I hope that you or anyone else can understand that I had no ill intention when I re-posted the e-mail. Thanks.

15th Dec 2008, 06:54
Frabase and Tak,

I actually thought the same thing. Reason being, the CAPT who wrote this is a family friend. My dad sent this e-mail too me a few days before it was posted here. When I saw it here, I wrote my dad to ask him if Tom knows that this went out for all to see. I realize this is the risk you take when an e-mail is sent out to many recipients, so Tom should have taken this into consideration.
Again, no darts at you Tak as I can see it is a good read but just not sure if Tom would have wanted this to go out to the world...