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What happened on board flight NW042

By Vipin Vijayan in Mumbai
Last updated on: August 25, 2006 15:03 IST
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Nineteen-year-old Karan Singh landed in Mumbai more than 24 hours behind schedule. But he wasn't peeved at the delay. Instead, he was relieved. For Singh, a passenger in the Northwest Airlines flight NW042, a 48-hour ordeal had come to an end.

He was among some 18 passengers who had arrived in Mumbai on Thursday night after their flight was grounded in Amsterdam and subsequently cancelled.

The behaviour of a group of passengers aroused suspicion among the crew, who alerted Dutch officials on ground. Soon, two Dutch F-16s were out on the skies and escorted the flight back to Amsterdam.

Though he did not witness the drama that took place inside the aircraft, Singh said the authorities handled the entire operation well.

"We were told that the aircraft had some technical problem because of which it would land at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. But upon landing there, it became clear that the reason given to us was not true. Armed commandos had surrounded the aircraft and the presence of fighter jets made it clear that something was wrong," he says.

Among others on board the ill-fated flight was Central Industrial Security Force Deputy Commandant (Retd) Umesh Prasad Behera.

Behera says the air marshals did what they ought to have done. The group of 12 passengers was not heeding the instructions of the stewardesses, who had asked them to switch off their mobile phones and to remain seated. As their pleas fell on deaf ears, the stewardesses had to alert the air marshal, Behera said.

"As an educated passenger I had asked them not to use the lavatory while the plane was taking off, but they did not listen," he said.

The air marshal tactfully used sign language to call out the erring passengers so as not to create panic among the other 148 passengers on board the aircraft, he added. 

However, Behera said the situation on the ground could have been handled better.

"There were a number of delays with regard to inquiry into the incident. These days, enquiry has to be quick. There was further delay with regard to lodging for the passengers. Nobody was there to take care of the passengers when the aircraft was at the airport." he said.

A few others felt that the situation during the flight and on the ground had been handled well. A Northwest Airlines crewmember, who preferred to be anonymous, said once it was informed over the passenger announcement system that the aircraft would land shortly, the marshals took over. According to him, the passengers were comfortable.

Nitin and Kiran Dalal too were among the passengers who reached Mumbai. They said that the 12 passengers who were detained were passing around their mobile phones despite having been instructed to switch them off.

"They were moving around. Nobody moves around the aircraft soon after take off. Other passengers were frightened by their actions. As soon as we landed, some uniformed men took them in handcuffs," Kiran said.

"We were not informed about why we had landed in Amsterdam. I think they said it was a mechanical failure. We were all very suspicious. We knew something was wrong and that something was going on. Soon, the cabins and the area under the seats were scanned maybe for explosives. We didn't know. While waiting in the aircraft, we were not allowed to use the bathroom. We could not talk to each other. It was very confusing," she added.

Stewart Nicol confirmed what the Dalals had narrated.

Looking to put the harrowing 48 hours behind him, Nicol said the passengers were told that they will be briefed upon landing at Amsterdam.

All they said was that there was some sort of mechanical problem with the plane, he said.

He however denied having seen anything suspicious. Everybody was just calm, he said.

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Vipin Vijayan in Mumbai