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Hero of an air crash

K.K Nambiar, an air crash survivor, narrates to M. K. UNNIKRISHNAN his frightening experience aboard the fateful Trivandrum-Madras flight.

SURVIVING AN air-crash is like being granted a second lease of life. Ask K. K. Nambiar , he'll tell you. A gentleman of avuncular disposition, an excellent host, widely travelled and well connected in society, he still keeps that tell-tale watch.

Listen to Mr Nambiar's narrative. The date of the crash is 9th December 1971. And the time, 12.24 pm. I was on my way to Madras from Trivandrum. The flight was by an Avro..... But the story begins much before that; I must start with how I happened to fix my travel on that fateful day.

In those days, I was the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala State. I was invited to attend the State Bank of India South Zone, Circle Co-ordination Committee meeting at Madras. As it was only a routine meeting, I was not at all keen. I had even dropped the idea of going to Madras.

It seems so strange and puzzling how it all happened the way it didI was waitlisted, to be precise, I was fourth on the waiting list.

After some enquiries they said that I could travel up to Madurai. I was disappointed. I almost decided to go back home...

The travel from Madurai to Madras was not an easy thing to undertake in those days. Morever , I had just Rs 105 with me. Breaking my journey at Madurai could have meant a lot of unexpected expenditure. Even my bag was packed for a brief journey. Then again, my friend Mr Raghavan, who was also in the waiting list, kept persuading me to come along. You see, he too was supposed to be with me at the same meeting. I was almost going to drop out when the airport officer told me that I could go up to Trichy, a lot closer. Perhaps, at Trichy, if there was a vacant seat I would be `lucky'. Mr Chandrashekhara Pillai, then former minister, was to attend the same meeting with me. He said that we must sit next to each other in the plane and I agreed.

We took off at 12.10 pm. I was the last one to board the plane. The formal announcements before take off were already over. The stairway was pulled off and the doors were shut the very moment I stepped into the plane. I don't remember anything unusual during the take off. But something remarkable, strange and fateful happened as I boarded the plane. Mr Raghavan dragged me to the rear and insisted that I must sit with him. You see, I had already planned to sit with Mr Chandraskekhara Pillai who had his seat in the front. What Raghavan did was to physically drag me to the rear end of the plane.

(This saved my life.)

Within a few minutes the weather began to worsen. It became cloudy and the visibility dropped. I could see nothing but dark clouds outside the window.

The plane suddenly began to bump violently. Perhaps, we were entering repeatedly into air pockets. On four occasions the plane was tossed up and down in a terribly violent way. Despite my frequent travels by air, it was nothing like I had experienced before.

The plane was possibly straying away from the regular route.

Then Mr Raghavan, who was seated by the window looked anxiously at me and asked:

`Mr Nambiar, are we going to crash? '

That was the last thing I could recall ...

Then the plane crashed! How it took place, I cannot tell you. I did not remember hearing any noise either. I must have fallen unconscious under the impact.

When I regained consciousness, I knew that the plane had crashed. The plane had been broken into many pieces. The front part of the plane was probably torn into shreds. What I could see were only the middle and the rear of the plane. Seats were thrown about all around me and lay scattered on the ground. The roof of the plane had disappeared. I found myself still seated in the rear, with my seat belt still on. Mr Raghavan's seat had been thrown some distance to the front. He seemed thoroughly dazed but secure in his seat and alive. Those who were seated to my right were nowhere to be seen.

I examined myself. Nothing seemed to have happened to me. No fracture, no injury, no blood anywhere. I felt immensely relieved. When I looked behind me, I saw a crack on the floor of the plane through which I could see the thick undergrowth of the jungle.

I had a feeling that the plane would blow up in a moment I jumped out of the plane through the crack on the floor.

It was all quiet outside the plane. It was then that I realised that Mr Raghavan was still seated thereI found that it was his shoe that was stuck between the broken parts of the plane. I undid his shoelaces and he freed himself. The exact time of the crash was 12.24 pm. The watch is still with me as a souvenir, still showing the fateful moment of my life, frozen on the faded dial. It was a fine watch, a Favre Leuba in excellent condition but I decided against getting it repaired

There were nine survivors in all but I was the only person who

escaped the crash completely unhurt!

I must have walked for more than an hour before I saw the typical corrugated tin roofs Meghamala division of a tea estate owned by Brooke Bond Company. I went there straight and announced the news of the air crash. They too had heard a loud noise but were not sure where it came from.

The news of the crash slowly spread through the estate. I became the centre of attraction. Dr Venkatachaliah, from the estate, shifted the injured passengers to the estate hospital with minimum loss of time. They were given first aid and later shifted to nearby hospitals. The dead bodies were then heaped up and transported in a lorry.

Meanwhile my wife received a telephone call from my neighbour Mr Nanu Kuttan Nair's wife . She asked my wife whether I was at home. When my wife replied that I had left to Madras by air, she put down the receiver abruptly. My wife was puzzled but not alarmed yet.

But Mr K M Balakrishnan PA of Minister Mr M K Balakrishnan went a step further. He telephoned my wife and told her that the plane had crashed but I was safe. He said it without really knowing that I had survived!

Very soon the neighbourhood where I lived was buzzing with cars. About 200 cars had rushed to my locality, anxious about air crash. Many visitors had already taken me for dead. Somebody even asked my wife where the cremation was being arranged. My wife fainted.

Meanwhile, I must tell you that the scene of crash was 18 miles from the nearest telegraphic office. The estate people recruited two messengers on motorcycles to the telegraph office and the Madurai Collectorate. I gave them my residence phone number and asked them to tell my wife that I was safe.

To this day, the event continues to haunt me. My memory is fresh when it comes to recalling the event in its finest detail.

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