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For Southland Relatives of Pan Am Hostages, a Long and Agonizing Wait for News

September 07, 1986|DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writer

When the shooting erupted late Friday aboard hijacked Pan American World Airways Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, resulting in at least 15 deaths, the mother and father of 11-year-old passenger Dwijal Dave sat stunned before a television set in Downey.

They were hanging onto hope.

"We were hysterical," the boy's father, Khiten Dave, a 43-year-old video-movie store operator, recalled. "We were listening to the news. We had the TV and the radio on. I started calling Pan Am, calling (family members) in India, trying to contact people in Karachi. My wife was crying. It was absolutely like hell."

Khiten Dave was one of the fortunate ones--his son was reported safe and uninjured.

"I talked to him (by telephone)," Dave said. "He said, 'Mom, Dad, I'm OK. I ran like hell from the plane. . . .' He was a little down, crying."

For the Daves, like most families of the estimated 44 Americans on the ill-fated jumbo jet, the strain of the hijacking reached a climax in the uncertain hours after Arab gunmen opened fire in the crowded cabin. Reports Saturday said the death toll was at least 16 of the plane's 384 passengers and crewmen, including at least three Americans who were believed killed.

Among those confirmed dead was 29-year-old Rajesh Kumar of Huntington Beach. He was killed early in the hijacking when the terrorists shot him in the back of the head and threw his body out on the tarmac to reinforce their demands that the plane fly to Cyprus.

Another reported fatality was Kala Singh, 35, the wife of a La Jolla book publisher, who was killed by a bullet to the head. Her husband, Sadanand, was reported safe with a bullet wound in the arm, and her two children--daughter Kolpena, 13, and son Samir, 8--received minor shrapnel wounds from an exploding grenade, according to Linton Vandiver, a business associate of Singh.

By Saturday, information on the fate of the passengers was still reaching families here. At least a dozen of the passengers were known to be California residents, and a number of those were among Southern California's growing population from India.

Vinod Dave, a Bakersfield-area motel operator who is unrelated to the Dave family of Downey, was planning to leave today for Karachi, where his two daughters remained hospitalized. Like many children of Indian immigrants, the two girls had been on a summer vacation with relatives in their homeland, "learning the language, the life style . . . finding their roots," Vinod Dave said.

They were returning to begin school on Tuesday.

'In Intensive Care'

His older daughter, Gayatri, 13, suffered only minor injuries when she jumped from an open door of the plane, Dave said. But his younger daughter, Gargi, 10, who also jumped from the plane, was reported in critical condition with head injuries.

"She is unconscious . . . in intensive care," Dave said. "The doctor told us we should come there to see her. We are very much concerned about her condition."

At least eight of the passengers were young children returning to start fall classes, said Mona Bhuva, 20, of Alhambra, whose 11-year-old sister was also one of those aboard the flight. The sister, Preeta, was seated with the others in a special section set aside for unaccompanied minors, Bhuva said.

Bhuva said the Indian passengers aboard the flight credited an unidentified Pan American attendant for opening an emergency door that allowed most of the children to escape. Preeta was one of those who made the jump and ran to safety unharmed, the older sister said.

"We think the stewardess opened the door in the back," Bhuva said. "She let the passengers out. She's the real hero."

Family members talked of spending long hours after the hijacking monitoring television and radio reports, hoping that the Arab hijackers would decide to set women and children free. At the Bhuva household, six family members and relatives stayed up all night Thursday, hoping to hear word of young Preeta's fate.

Then came news of Friday's shooting spree.

'Worst Time in Our Lives'

"We went through the worst time in our lives," father Harshad Bhuva recalled. "I had just finished a prayer, and I saw my (other) daughter crying. She couldn't say anything. Then I heard the news on the TV--at least 100 people injured, a lot of people killed. I kept saying, 'My daughter must be alive.' "

Three hours later, he learned she was.

Several families were critical of the airline and U.S. Embassy officials who were slow in reporting the condition of passengers.

Bharat Parekh, 40, of Anaheim, said he received reports from relatives in India and later received a phone call from his 10-year-old daughter Urjita, who was on the plane and apparently safe. But as of Saturday, he said, he still had not heard from Pan Am officials confirming her safety.

Pan Am spokesman James A. Arey in New York said that he sympathized with the families, but that airline officials were doing everything they could.

"It's terribly difficult getting information from that part of the world," he said.

For the family of Kumar, the victim from Huntington Beach, Saturday was a doubly traumatic day. As they grieved for him, they also worried about the fate of his grandmother, K. Patel, 75, and an aunt, G. Patel, 45, who were traveling with him when the hijackers took control of the airplane.

Finally, late Saturday, the family received word that the two women were safe.

Times staff writers Ray Perez and Roxana Kopetman also contributed to this article.

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