There was a general air of laughter, relaxed conversation, much rustling of papers when Air India Boeing 737 took off from Delhi airport on its morning flight to Bangalore. Not many had paid any serious attention to the demonstration given by the two pretty air hostesses on what to do in an emergency. Soon, the breakfast trolleys arrived and we enjoyed our breakfast. It was only a four-hour flight from Delhi to Bangalore. My father had opened his briefcase and was looking into some files and I pulled out a book and started reading.
After three hours of smooth flying, the plane suddenly started dipping with a sudden lurch. Passengers, who were standing or walking in the aisles, had to clutch onto the seats to prevent themselves from falling. I looked out of my window and saw nothing but white clouds. Some passengers who were dozing woke up with cries of “What happened?”. Worried faces looked around when another lurch made us jump in the seats.
Suddenly, the lights were on and we heard the Captain’s voice on the intercom, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Captain Mehta speaking. I regret to inform you that the plane has developed engine trouble and I may have to make a forced landing – so tighten up your belts, put on your life jackets. The air hostesses, the steward will keep the emergency exits ready. Try to get out of the plane as soon as It lands. Do not panic. God bless you all.”
There was a stunned silence after this announcement. People were too shocked to react. Then all hell broke loose. Cries, prayers, angry protests, all came together. The trained crew worked swiftly and competently. So the 247 odd passengers were swiftly helped to put on their life jackets, and the masks.
My father quickly put on my jacket and held on to my hand. We were asked to keep our heads down. I could see some passengers helping others. One of the lockers opened and a piece of luggage fell on a woman’s head. She gave an almighty scream and the air hostess rushed to her aid.
Meanwhile, the plane was jerking and shuddering. We could make out we were descending rapidly. The clouds could not be seen and then we heard the Captain say, “Now! Ready!” I put my fingers in my ears; my father held my hand firmly. I arched my body to receive the crash. There was chaos, screams and everybody was pushing each other out. I felt myself sailing through the Parachute and landed on the hard ground. It was the fastest run I had ever made.
People were running everywhere–some limping, some sobbing, but running, The last to come out was the Captain and the crew. The nightmare was not yet over. Exactly 10 minutes later (or was it even less?), we heard a thunderous sound, saw the plane go up in flames which I won’t forget for years.
People stood still in shock. It was one of the worst and the strangest crashes. Not a single life was lost, thanks to the skill of the Captain and the selfless service of the crew. Of course, our luggage could not be saved but we were grateful for our lives. I don’t think I am ever going to forget that dreadful, terrifying experience.