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Around The Sun: Hijacked Flight

Steve Harrison tells of the day he arrived in India - a day that still makes him glad to be alive.

We had a touch and go stop-over in Delhi before flying on to Bombay. There we had to go through customs and immigration in less than 60 minutes before before boarding our onward flight IA406 to Bangalore, which was to be our missionary base for the next six weeks.

Then God intervened in the shape of Indian bureaucracy.

Our little group was singled out for special attention. We were searched and interrogated. Our luggage was carefully examined. We were again interrogated. Our passports were photocopied.

Time was ticking away.

Our flight was announced. IA406 to Bangalore.

More questions.

Final boarding for the Bangalore flight was called.

The bureaucratic procedure continued.

Now our names were called out for the flight.

"Hey, that's us,'' I told the Indian immigration officials.

Undaunted, they plodded along with their inquiries.

My heart was racing. I hate being late for anything. I had one eye on the clock, and the other on the plodding officials.

Then there was an annoucement that the gate had closed for the Bangalore flight. I was fuming. The officials were unperturbed. I muttered sarcastic remarks about their incompetence.

When we were finally allowed to enter India we worked out another game plan. There was another flight to Bangalore in 10 hours. We could hire a taxi. Do a little sight-seeing in Bombay before flying on.

That's what we did. We left the customs hall, hired a taxi, and took off for downtown Bombay. Our friendly taxi driver was fluent in English. He took us to every corner of the city. We told him about our missed flight. I was still disgruntled, making acidic comments on the incompetence of the officials.

While listening to our story the driver was also listening to radio news in Hindi. He updated us by translating the news into English.

Suddenly he went quiet and bent his ear to the radio, turning up the volume. I heard the flight number IA406.

"You are lucky,'' he said. "The Bangalore flight has been hijacked and diverted to Pakistan. There are fears that terrorists will blow the plane up when it reaches Karachi.''

We greeted the news in silence, absorbed in our own thoughts. It was good to be cruising the streets of a huge city. Life suddenly had a different taste.

I don't know how long our tour lasted. We arrived back at the airport in good time for our flight. There was extra security. We didn't mind that now.

The news was bad. Terrorists had blown up the plane. Everyone on board had died.

Eventually it was time to fasten our seat belts and take off for Bangalore. We arrived there safely.

1984 was a bad year in India. There was the Sikh rebellion. Kashmir was annexed. Other planes were hijacked. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

India was a good country not to be in that year.

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