Friday, December 12, 2008

Northwest Airlines Captain Thomas B. Cook

The Oberoi Hotel at Nariman Point, Mumbai, India

Hank, an old room-mate from the Air Force Academy who is now an airline captain, sent me this account of the Mumbai attacks from a Northwest Airlines (NWA) pilot who was caught in the Oberoi by the terrorists. These photos were not taken by the captain, but were snatched by me off the Internet to illustrate the story. F/A means Flight Attendant:

To all my friends and relatives, It has been a week since F/A Daryl Jones 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: Timeline 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 fireworks 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.

A normal view from a room at the Oberoi Hotel

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 fatal tactical error. I decided to go down to the lobby to get some first hand info on our pick-up time.

The lobby of the Oberoi

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 room 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 room!!

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 came. 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 airport. 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. Cook

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home