‘Room service, housekeeping’ - key words in Mumbai hotel rescue

December 2nd, 2008 - 12:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Dec 2 (IANS) “Room service, housekeeping” were the key words that brought relief to seven crew members of South African Airways (SAA) who waited for 36 hours before they were rescued from the Trident Oberoi hotel in Mumbai amid the terrorist attacks last week.The seven, who have since returned home safely to their families, described to the Afrikaans daily Beeld how they spent the first 26 hours in fear and terror, as bombs went off outside and shots whizzed past them before they contacted each other via SMS and sought shelter together in room 1415 of the hotel.

Bridgitte Ntanjana recalled how she had sent an SMS to cabin crew manager Danny Twala here just five minutes after the attacks began: “We are so, so scared, we don’t know what to do! They are throwing bombs non-stop. They are killing people, 20 are being held hostage in the foyer. Just pray for us, guys.”

Twala continued to communicate continuously with the crew by mobile, succeeding in getting them together into the room after 26 hours.

Cabin attendant Sinikiwe Mlagisi described the most terrifying moment when they learnt by SMS that the crew of a French airline was being held hostage on the floor above them: “For a moment everyone was absolutely quiet.”

But the message turned out to be just a rumour. Earlier Mlagisi had called her family back home: “I told them to watch TV. I am here and I am OK. I did not know if it was my hotel (which was being attacked).”

Another attendant, Lungile Mhlongo, told the daily: “I heard and now know how an AK 47 and a hand grenade sound.”

For another crew member, Jaco Grobler, it was a second harrowing experience during his career with SAA.

Grobler said the Mumbai incident was a worse experience than the US 9/11 incident when he was staying in a hotel three kilometres from the World Trade Centre into which suicide terrorist rammed their planes.

Ten hours after they had all gathered, there was a knock on the room, and relief as they heard the words they had been waiting for.

The key words had been agreed via mobile to ensure that both the security staff who were attempting to rescue them and the crew members knew that there were not terrorists on the other side of the door.

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