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Huntington Beach Man 'Was Proud' of His American Passport : Terrorists Made New U.S. Citizen Their First Victim

September 06, 1986|MARK LANDSBAUM and STEVE EMMONS | Times Staff Writers

Rajesh Kumar, the Huntington Beach man who became the first victim of terrorists who took over a Pan American World Airways jetliner in Karachi, had just become a U.S. citizen and "was very proud" of his brand-new American passport.

But a passenger who escaped said the 29-year-old Kumar was killed in the early hours of the hijacking after being singled out and called to the front of the plane. After telling the hijackers he was an American citizen, Kumar was shot and killed.

Rajesh Kumar had been a U.S. citizen for only "a few weeks," said a family friend, Ashiq Patel.

A Briton on the plane, Mike Phexton, said flight attendants told him that hours before the hijacking ordeal ended, Kumar "was singled out and called to the front of the plane. He said he was an American citizen and he was just shot in the head and dropped out of the plane.

"We were all asked to hand our passports in, and I understand that the stewardess concealed some American passports because she thought that Americans would be particularly at risk," Phexton told the Associated Press in Karachi.

Relatives Gather

Kumar's grieving relatives gathered Friday morning at the family home in Huntington Beach, stunned by the news.

"He was very proud" of becoming a U.S. citizen, said Satish Kumar Patel of his slain brother.

The family's life was shattered by a 5 a.m. telephone call from the State Department bringing word that Kumar had been killed by terrorists aboard the Pan Am jet seized by Arab hijackers.

Later, the family, which has lived in Huntington Beach for eight years, was given additional news of the slaying by reporters who had gathered to interview them. And at 11:07 a.m., a hand-delivered telegram arrived from the State Department, confirming Kumar's death.

Kumar, who had adopted that surname, had been born in Kenya with the name Rajesh Patel. Naturalized as a U.S. citizen on July 11, he had traveled to Bombay, India, to bring his grandmother and aunt back with him to visit his newly adopted country.

Hijackers Panicked

The family was certain that the women were aboard the flight, which originated in Bombay and was bound for Frankfurt, West Germany and then New York but knew nothing of their fate. The crisis ended when the four hijackers panicked and started firing at passengers and Pakistani commandos stormed the plane.

A family spokesman identified the grandmother as K. Patel, about 70, and the aunt as Gangaben Patel, about 45.

"The family hadn't seen the grandmother for a long time," said Ashiq Patel, the family friend.

Kumar, vice president of Chandra International Corp., the family's motel business, was the first U.S. citizen in his family and lived at the large Huntington Beach house on a cul-de-sac called Grass Circle with his brother, Satish; his father, Naginbhai Patel, and mother, Taraben Patel.

As Satish Kumar Patel discussed his brother's death with reporters, friends and relatives from throughout Southern California arrived to console one another and await further word. Dipak Patel, a cousin, held the State Department wire as family members gathered on the driveway. Some of the men then joined others inside the house, leaving their shoes, as had those before them, on the porch.

"Everyone is devastated," said Ashiq Patel. "He (Kumar) had just received his U.S. passport. He was very proud of that. He got it about four weeks ago."

Ashiq Patel said his slain friend "wasn't the sort to make heroics."

"What I knew of him, he was a very quiet, very family-oriented (man), just a nice person.

"They've just have taken away a person who's never done anything bad in his life.

"You read about it in the papers, you never think it will happen to you. Nobody wants to talk about it. Everyone's so shocked, so stunned."

Thrown Onto Tarmac

After being thrown onto the Tarmac, according to press reports from Pakistan, Kumar was taken to Jinnah Hospital in Karachi. Pakistani authorities said he died in surgery.

Rajesh Kumar first entered the United States on Feb. 19, 1978, as a tourist, then became a lawful resident alien on Dec. 9, 1980, according to a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman.

He was twice married, divorcing his first wife in 1981, and had filed a joint petition with his present wife, Rekha Patel Kumar, for divorce on July 29, according to court records. There were no children by either marriage, according to the divorce papers.

Mahesh Patel, no relation, said he met Kumar several years ago when the family lived in Huntington Beach.

He said Rajesh Kumar had intended to return from India on Aug. 25, but "something must have come up."

"It's very very sad that I've lost him. Very sad," he said. "He never caused any trouble, never got into any trouble . . . and they (hijackers) got him. I don't understand why."

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