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When two 1971 air crash survivors met after 48 years

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On December 9, 1971 an Avro crashed in the forests of Meghamalai. Two of the nine survivors meet for the first time after 48 years and relive that day

Fifty-seven-year-old Raghunath sat silent for most part of the journey as his son Nagarajan drove him 300-odd kms from Thiruvananthapuram to Madurai. . Memories rushed through his mind of an incident that very few people live to tell.

They reached K S Mani's house to find the 76-year-old pacing outside his home, impatiently awaiting their arrival. When the two stood face-to-face, words lost all relevance. They were almost strangers to each other, yet something welded them together forever - an air crash that happened in 1971. Back to the present, Mani and Raghunath shook hands and then embraced for a long time.

“We are happy to be alive and meeting after 48 years,” said Mani, simply. “It is a second lease of life and we have come a long way,” agreed Raghunath.

Survivors of disaster Raghunath Nagarajan (white shirt) with his brother Rajesh Nagarajan

Survivors of disaster Raghunath Nagarajan (white shirt) with his brother Rajesh Nagarajan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On December 9, 1971, both were passengers on Indian Airlines Avro aircraft HS-748 that was on a round trip from Chennai to Trivandrum via Madurai. The aircraft crashed on that rainy afternoon in the forests of Meghamalai killing 31 of the 40 passengers on board.

Raghunath was nine years old and was flying with his parents and younger brother. “We were on our way to attend the funeral of my grandfather in Erumapatti village near Namakkal. The aircraft had rows of two seats each and I and my brother got the window seats. My father sat with me in the aisle and my mother was in the row behind with my brother. All I remember are the dark clouds outside the window, a sudden jolt and the aircraft nosediving .” He fell unconscious. The two brothers were among the nine passengers who survived, but had lost both their parents.

Mani was 28 years old and remembers a little more about his maiden flight. Working as a mechanical engineer with ISRO's Space Science and Technology Centre in Trivandrum, he was asked to go to Chennai for some emergency purchase. Excited to get a window seat, Mani was so engrossed in the view from the top that he paid no heed to the announcements of bad weather within half-an-hour of taking off. I even forgot to unfasten my seat belt and that is what perhaps saved my life, he says.

When two 1971 air crash survivors met after 48 years

Rahgunath works in Karur Vyasa Bank and lives with his son and daughter-in-law in Vazhuthacaud. Mani lives alone in Madurai. His son works in Bengaluru and daughter in Chennai. He insists that they call him on plane crash anniversary day every year and wish him even though he was born on July 16. “December 9 is my date of rebirth,” he says. Mani fractured his foot and had other minor injuries and he has never boarded another flight ever except once to attend an official conference in Delhi.

“I always wondered whether any other survivors are alive and I would ever meet them,” says Mani. Raghunath’s son tracked Mani down after reading an article in MetroPlus in 2016. “ I am glad that it worked out, even if 48 years later,” says Nagarajan.

Anil Maxwell who works in Kuwait has been following up on every lead connected to air crashes because he lost his aunt, Stella Gomez, on that flight. By strange coincidence, the same article has now brought him in touch with this small group of survivors that includes Raghunath's brother Rajesh, who run his own IT company, Infini Minds in Bengaluru.

    Mani's son, Kalyanasundaram S, read about another survivor, K.K.Nambiar in the Kochi edition of the The Hindu dated May 5, 2003 and Nagarajan hopes one day they will succeed in reaching out to other survivors of the crash or at least their families and build a small group of friends.

     

    Twist of fate
    • Rajesh Nagarajan remembers the day he and his brother were taken to their mother’s village near Namakkal after they were discharged from the erstwhile Erskine Hospital in Madurai, where they were under treatment for two months.
    • “People were actually showering flowers on our car and I was quite liking all the attention,” he laughs. The brothers did not yet know then that both their parents had died. They also did not know that their grandfather had passed away a day before the crash.
    • “My father told my mother that grandfather was seriously ill and he booked overnight train tickets for December 8 to Madurai from where we were supposed to take a cab to the village. But my mother insisted we take a flight instead and we got the four tickets (apparently the tickets were cancelled by singer Yesudas and his family!).
    • “There was an hour’s delay and my last conversation with my mother was at the airport asking her to buy me orange juice. A little after take-off, the flight started shaking. From my seat I could see the plane flying very low over the mountains. There were dense clouds all around and soon it crashed into the trees, tearing off the wing next to me. I saw the fuselage breaking into two parts but there was no fire. I was screaming and crying and there was lot of debris around. I was still strapped to my seat when somebody came and pulled me out and carried me to an ambulance. I found my father lying on one seat and bleeding profusely and my brother was on the other seat. My father just told me not to worry and be brave. He died in the hospital on December 20 without knowing that my mother had died on-the-spot.
    • “It was a disaster of an unbelievable proportion for our family. My brother and I have always been a support for each other helped by relatives and we have come a long way, says Rajesh, though it took him another 17 years to board the next flight. “Now my work takes me all over the globe but I feel extremely anxious each time I purchase an air ticket,” he says.
    •  

     

    Rajesh Nagarajan remembers the day he and his brother were taken to their mother’s village near Namakkal after they were discharged from the erstwhile Erskine Hospital in Madurai, where they were under treatment for two months.

    “People were actually showering flowers on our car and I was quite liking all the attention,” he laughs. The brothers did not yet know then that both their parents had died. They also did not know that their grandfatherhad passed away a day before the crash.

    When two 1971 air crash survivors met after 48 years

    “My father told my mother that grandfather was seriously ill and he booked overnight train tickets for December 8 to Madurai from where we were supposed to take a cab to the village. But my mother insisted we take a flight instead and we got the four tickets (apparently the tickets were cancelled by singer Yesudas and his family!).

    “There was an hour’s delay and my last conversation with my mother was at the airport asking her to buy me orange juice. A little after take-off, the flight started shaking. From my seat I could see the plane flying very low over the mountains. There were dense clouds all around and soon it crashed into the trees, tearing off the wing next to me. I saw the fuselage breaking into two parts but there was no fire. I was screaming and crying and there was lot of debris around. I was still strapped to my seat when somebody came and pulled me out and carried me to an ambulance. I found my father lying on one seat and bleeding profusely and my brother was on the other seat. My father just told me not to worry and be brave. He died in the hospital on December 20 without knowing that my mother had died on-the-spot.

    “It was a disaster of an unbelievable proportion for our family. My brother and I have always been a support for each other helped by relatives and we have come a long way, says Rajesh, though it took him another 17 years to board the next flight. “Now my work takes me all over the globe but I feel extremely anxious each time I purchase an air ticket,” he says.

     

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    Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 10:30:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/when-two-1971-air-crash-survivors-meeting-after-48-years/article30298765.ece

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