Sandeep Sapra, managing director of a pharmaceutical company, was travelling to Toronto to meet his sister and had planned to go to USA from there for a business meeting. On the morning of March 22, his flight reached Brussels airport just half an hour before a bomb blast had killed around 30 people. Shocked and saddened at the uncaring attitude of officials of the Indian Embassy and Jet Airways, the airline on which he was travelling, Sapra narrates his experience.
By Sandeep Sapra
We reached Brussels airport around 8 o’clock in the morning. But when we landed at the airport we were informed by the pilot that there was some security issue at the airport and thus they were asked to stay at the runway and that the plane could not be taken to the bay. For almost 45 minutes, we were at the runway. A while later we were told that we could be taken inside the airport as there was no one to run the aerobridge. Again we were made to sit there for almost an hour. Then they took us from the side stairs of the aircraft to the ground. From there, we were taken by a bus to an open area where other passengers from various flights were assembled. A huge number of people were present in that open area which was very close to the blast site. We could just walk up to the place where the blast took place. I went up to the blast site and saw that the place was in a deep mess.
"An absolute mess"
After being stranded there for a couple of hours, they started serving us water. They asked us to sit in the buses and took us to a hangar at the airport. It was a huge hall. We were around four to five thousand people. We reached there around 1.30 pm and were there till around 6.30. We had been without any food since 8 in the morning. At 4.30 pm, we got some bread to eat and some coffee along with it. From there, we were taken to some unknown location – it was a huge complex. They took our name and address, saw our passports and then served us food. They took some people to other locations also like some military base. There were only seven to eight toilets for four-five thousand people. It was an absolute mess. People from the Red cross society were there to take care of minor health problems like headache but not serious issues like diabetes and blood-pressure.
"We were staying like refugees"
The next day in the morning, the Jet airways staff came and asked the authorities that when could we be taken out of Brussels. The authorities told them that the airport was closed and not much could be done. Nobody was told anything clearly. On the night of March 22, officials from other airways came and took their people out but no on one from Jet airways came to help us. I don’t know where they took them – to hotels or to fly them out of their country to their destinations, but Jet airways did not have any arrangements for us to be moved out of the place. I asked Jet airways officials whether I and a business class passenger could get some accommodation, to which they replied that I could make my own arrangements but they could not do anything. I told them that I didn’t have a transit visa but again they told me they couldn’t help me with that either. They told me that I could book a taxi online and book my hotel. I took a risk and went to the hotel in a taxi. In the evening, I got a call that a bus had been arranged that we had to go to Amsterdam. We reached Amsterdam at 11.30 in the night and stayed in a small hotel.
The sad part was that the Indian Embassy never came even once to help us. There was absolutely no communication from the embassy. We were staying like refugees there but none of them cared.
They could have communicated and told us that they were making some arrangements for us. We were surviving on bread and butter for three and a half days. We were not even allowed to take our handbags. Other passengers who were at the airport were also asked to leave their handbags at the airport itself. We have been informed that we would get our luggage at least in 10 days as it will be sent for forensic examination. I don’t know how they will identify the hand baggage. It will be very difficult.
I saw glasses were broken and the roofs fallen. I could see injured passengers been taken in ambulances.
The atmosphere was really tense. We did not know where we were being taken and for how long we had to stay there. When we made a hue and cry that we wanted to know where we were been taken they wrote the address of the place on a white-board. We took the pictures and informed our families about it.
The worst part was the apathy of the embassy people. I mean there are very few occasions when they really have to face and manage such crisis and if in these few cases too they cannot help their people, what is their use.
As told to Shishir Tripathi