A trip I’d like to forget: Onboard the Jet Airways flight that skidded off a runway

My apologies beforehand, if you find this post too long to read. In following words, I’ve tried to narrate my rendezvous with what I thought would be my last moments. I’ve reproduced here the first person account of a traumatized passenger of the ill fated flight 9W2374 from Goa to Mumbai on 27-Dec-2016, which I wrote for an online publication ‘dailyO’. Original article is posted here with some pictures: http://www.dailyo.in/voices/jet-airw…y/1/14900.html
Sorry for the delay in putting it up here. I just hope no one should go through such an experience ever.

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I have always felt a little sad at the Goa airport when returning from holidays. This time the feeling was mixed since I was going to meet my family the next day after a full week. My son and my wife had gone to her parent’s place for Christmas holidays and I found this opportunity over the weekend to unwind in Goa all alone – for the first time in years.

Little did I know that this flight from Goa to Mumbai in the wee hours of Tuesday would be the worst nightmare of my life. I web-checked on Monday and was able to get a first row window seat, not suspecting that it was part of destiny and a hint of someone watching for me from above.

So when you have an early morning flight (4.40 am), it doesn’t make sense to sleep at all the previous night since you need to reach the airport early.

Anyway, I was happy to find the flight on time. All seated by 4.55 am, I heard the crew say “all 154 passengers on board” and the plane pushed back to taxi towards the runway, with the airhostesses making the customary announcements.

I took out my phone devices, switched them off and could see the runway lights going past. The plane had begun its journey to the end of the runway to make a U-turn and then take off. I relaxed my head, hoping for a nap before the end of the flight.

Just when I was about to close my eyes, a violent jerk shook me back to alertness. For a split second, I thought it was one of the routine ones on uneven runways, but the thought lasted only for a second.

The aircraft was on full throttle, as is normal at the time of take-off; only this time I could feel my body pressed towards the window since the plane had veered to the right of the runway, in the field adjoining it. It was terrifying!

The lights went off. Passengers had begun screaming due to the jerks and because some of them had noticed a blaze in the left engine. This went on for about 10-12 seconds, the most difficult ones of my life. By now it had started to dawn on me that these were probably my last moments.

A shiver ran down my spine as the aircraft seemed to be rolling on a surface similar to what I thought would be appropriate to call “craters of the moon”. I was almost convinced that the plane would halt when it crashed into a structure – since my assumption was that the brakes had failed and the pilot had no control over the aircraft.

However, as abruptly as the crisis had started, the plane suddenly jolted to a halt.

By this time, my handbag, which I had put safely under the seat, was in front of my legs. I saw my copassenger’s seat unbuckled and my survival reflexes made me quickly do the same. I picked my bag and ran towards the front doors.

I will never forget the look on the face of the shivering airhostess. Another one was trying to open the door. Another five seconds passed before I saw the slide go down – there were only two persons in front of me.

The airhostess seemed to find her voice and was able to squeak “run”! Well, I took that literally and instead of sliding down the emergency escape chute, I ran off it. Luckily, I did not land on my face.

Again, I believe it was the luckiest and at the same time scariest day of my life. As soon as I hit the ground, I noticed a narrow path going towards a building where the lights were just being turned on, probably after someone heard the loud noises.

It was pitch dark and the air was rent with sounds of the dying engine, screams, panic and smoke; not to miss the faint smell of fuel! I ran the fastest I ever had, away from the smoking aircraft.

Once safe near the building, I turned around to see people sprinting in my direction, away from smoke. I could hear kids crying, women screaming, even profanities, and soon couples around me were hugging, some people were shooting videos from their phones and the most bizarre one was a group taking selfies with the damaged aircraft in the background.

Then came the heart-wrenching scenes of the injured. I saw a lady with her son (about 10 years old) pleading for help. She seemed to have injured her shoulder. Her son was trying to stop her from screaming in pain, but soon joined in her pleas to get medical aid.

I tried to console them and looked around for help/an ambulance, but there was nothing in sight! Another lady, who said she was pregnant, was badly hurt in her right leg. It was swollen to twice the size of her other leg. She was in agonizing pain and pleading for a doctor. But there was no help. Almost 20 minutes went by when I saw a person in uniform – a navy man.

I could also see the flashing lights of fire engines in the distance, but they were unable to approach the plane due to the difficult terrain.

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Two airhostesses approached us, still shivering and crying from the incident, not knowing what to do apart from telling everyone to stay away from the aircraft.

One of them had the first-aid boxes, which were sealed, and they moved on to aid the injured ladies. The airhostesses were so startled that they couldn’t even open the sealed aid boxes. I helped one of them open the box and we searched for the pain relief spray – which was missing – though there were other pain relieving ointments.

Most of the injured had got hurt because they had jumped from near the wings of the plane accessed through the emergency exit windows in the middle of the aircraft. It was a drop of 8 feet, with the ground below ridden with boulders.

About 25 minutes after the incident, I saw the first stretcher being brought towards us. The two women were taken away. By now I could see a lot of men from the navy, airport staff as well as the airline (Jet Airways) staff. Except the navy guys, no one seemed to have a clue about what to do. If it wasn’t for the navy, our pain would have lasted longer. They took command of the situation, asked passengers to not panic.

Another 30 minutes passed before we saw the Jet Airways coaches come towards the runway to pick us from the field. A lot of passengers had to leave without their belongings, which were still in the aircraft, such as mobile phones, passports, wallets and even shoes.

Once we reached the main terminal, it was only after repeated requests that Jet Airways arranged for water and refreshments, but not meals. Sandwich, samosa and coffee was all we got.

Somewhere in between all this, we saw the pilots and crew leave the airport in a cab. Rumour was that they had been taken to a local government hospital for tests, including the alcohol test.

Finally, the airline released luggage from the plane around noon. By then, the media had reached the airport and a lot of “witness accounts” were being recorded and beamed across TV channels.

This, however, was in no way the last of our woes.

When we reached the departure halls for our ticket back to Mumbai, we were shocked to know that none of the passengers from the ill-fated flight had been prioritised on the first Jet Airways flight out of Goa to Mumbai (at 2 pm).

That created another ruckus, with the airline officials trying to avoid the angry passengers. Resigned, we all had no option but to take the later flight, at 5.30 pm.

I did learn some lessons from the incident – 1) Be grateful for everything in your life and never take any moment for granted and 2) Never fly again with Jet Airways, or for that matter trust any corporation apathetic to customers.

I also happened to read the open letter the pilot of the aircraft wrote to everyone, and found it really surprising.

In the moments after being rescued from the field that day, I had felt a surge of gratitude for the pilot, and even thought of thanking him for saving our lives.

But after reading his letter, I couldn’t help but think that he was trying to play victim.

I say: Why wouldn’t I judge you when I pay fares from my taxable income? Why wouldn’t I judge your experience and capability when I, including everyone on that plane, felt there was a delay in cutting out the throttle? Why would I not judge you when I leave my life in your hands? Why would I not judge you when your airline is so apathetic to survivors? Why would I not judge you when even 10 days after the incident, I wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares? Why would I not judge you when I for sure know that you didn’t come to a complete halt after taking the U-turn on the runway and before initiating take-off (I came to know later that the procedure is necessary).

And finally, why would I not judge you when I saw your crew helpless and unprepared for such a situation? Afterall you were the captain of that ship?

So, I would just like to suggest to you, humbly, to write a letter stating the facts. I hope you realise that all the passengers saw death in front of them under your command.

I just hope a thorough investigation reveals what transpired in the cockpit. And if it is proved that you did your best, no one would be happier than me.

That day, I will find you and give you my thanks.



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