Friday, 15 February 2013

The Bomb Threat

The Bomb Threat!
On November 12th, 1992, I was returning to India from Singapore, after attending a conference. It was a full flight, non-stop to Chennai.
Usually passengers on this flight carry a lot of luggage with merchandise bought from Singapore. The flight staff walk across the aisle and tell the passengers to keep the bags under the seat to ensure ease of movement. People store their bags under the seats, on their laps, and in the overhead cabins. On this day, the scene was no different!
As the flight time was only a little over three hours, the passengers were eager to land in Chennai soon. But the ‘fasten your seat belts’ sign lit up earlier than expected. As it did so, the captain announced that the air traffic control ordered him to land in Colombo instead of Chennai, ‘for operational reasons’.
The passengers were not happy to have this stop in Colombo, especially as the scheduled arrival time in Chennai was quite late in the evening. Almost certainly, this meant waiting in Colombo overnight!
After the plane landed, I noted that the plane was taxiing quite fast and away from the terminal building. When it came to a halt, we were instructed to get up from our seats as quickly as possible and proceed to the nearest exit without our hand luggage. There was a bomb threat!
The announcement created fear and panic on the plane; this is why the captain had not told us earlier, the reason for the change in flight plan. By the time the message was relayed to the flight, it was almost too late! The authorities wanted to prevent a mid-air explosion, so they brought the plane down at the nearest airport instead of letting it fly on to Chennai.
In the life and death situation that prevailed, the passengers quickly forgot their valuables and deplaned as fast as they could. Merchandise, passports, return and onward tickets - all were left behind. I was seated in the aisle seat just behind the exit row, so it was easy for me to proceed to the exit.
The two elderly passengers who were at the window and middle seats wanted to get to the door as quickly as possible. I therefore stood up to give room for them to come out. While I was rising from my seat, a word of assurance came to me: “… last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, Don’t be afraid…” (Acts.27:23). The God to whom I belong and whose I am…! Right away I knew in my heart that the bomb was not going to explode, and that we were safe.
The ‘bomb squad’, well-protected with helmets, gloves and coveralls, got everyone out of the plane in less than five minutes! I voluntarily assisted by staying at the exit until a bomb squad member asked me to move on. None of us were allowed to remain near the aircraft: we were taken on coaches to the terminal building.
What next? It was announced that the aircraft was being thoroughly examined for the bomb, and that we would take off only after it was declared safe. Finally, at midnight, we were told that the aircraft was damaged due to the intense and thorough inspection, and so we would have to wait for another aircraft to arrive from Singapore.
The ground staff started collecting our details, especially particulars of those waiting for the arriving passengers in Chennai. In addition, they tried to console the worried passengers. As there were only few staff on duty at this time of night, the passengers had to rush between counters for some hopeful information. I thought I would try to help such passengers, especially those who had to fill out forms. I was able to talk to several passengers, encourage them and help them with the procedures and formalities at the airport. More and more people started coming to me, as a result of which I was kept busy the entire night, and had little time to think about my own difficulties.
Finally, we were moved to downtown hotels to sleep, bathe and have breakfast. The first thing we had to do when we returned to the airport was collect our hand carried items from the previous plane. Many of the bags had been opened in the search for the bomb. Several passengers who, the night before had been thinking only of saving their lives, now began to fret over lost belongings. We arrived at Chennai the next evening, but I could not get a seat on the connecting flight. I had to wait for the rerouting of my ticket.
Well, what can you really do when things are not in your control? Waiting for over three hours in the security line is not easy. Of course, many who were standing in the line were cursing the terrorists and accusing the security staff for their slow progress. I found my weekly prayer diary very helpful in diverting my attention. Indeed, it was a wonderful time of talking to God about the needs of various people, thanking the Lord, and praying for the worried passengers on the flight.
Let’s be prepared to face unexpected delays with grace.

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