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Memorial Service : Heroic Death of Hijacking Victims Told

September 15, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

More than 400 tearful relatives and friends--some who had come from as far away as India, Africa and Great Britain--gathered at Westminster Memorial Cemetery on Sunday to remember Rajesh Kumar, the first victim to die in the Sept. 5 terrorist hijacking of a jetliner in Pakistan, and his grandmother, who also was slain.

The 29-year-old Huntington Beach man was the first passenger to be shot by terrorists who stormed a Pan American World Airways jumbo jet. His maternal grandmother, Kunverben Patel, 80, died later in the gunfire that ended the 16-hour ordeal on the runway at Karachi International Airport. Seventeen others died and they, too, were remembered during the Orange County ceremony.

"It is symbolic of what has been happening around the world as people mourn, not just for the Patel family, but for all those who were killed," said James E. Baxter, Western regional director for Pan Am.

M. Garg, a spokesman for the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, called on authorities to "punish the terrorists" and to "do something stronger against this menace of terrorism."

Kumar had returned to his homeland to escort his grandmother and an aunt on their first trip outside the family village near Bombay. Aboard Pan Am Flight 73, other passengers told his family, Kumar stood when terrorists called out the name of a passenger who then fled to the rear of the Boeing 747. Kumar reportedly shouted, "I am an American citizen and you can't do this!"

The passengers said he was then led to the front of the plane, where he was shot in the back of the head and thrown to the airport tarmac. He died at a Karachi hospital.

"He could have kept quiet, but he didn't," Garg told the assemblage. "I pray for his soul and I offer condolences to his family. I also offer condolences to relatives of all those who died. This tragedy lives in all of us."

'Citizenship Like at Shield'

"There should be trumpets blaring today because Rajesh died a hero's death, holding his treasured American citizenship like a shield for all the world to see," family friend Rosetta Cohen said in the hourlong Hindu service.

Kumar, who worked in the family's motel business, became an American citizen July 11, more than eight years after he and his family came to the United States.

His youngest brother, 19-year-old Satish Kumar Patel, appeared shaken as he thanked those assembled for their "much needed support" and referred to the deep sorrow of his parents, who already had lost their eldest son in a car accident several years ago.

"I am left here now by myself," said Satish Patel, his knuckles white as he gripped the lectern. He then turned to embrace his parents, and led them back to the curtained area from which they had watched the ceremony. Then he slammed a clenched fist against a wall.

Members of Southern California's Indian community held a separate memorial service in Orange County on Saturday night for Surendra M. Patel, 50, of Fullerton. Patel was the second U.S. citizen and Orange County resident killed in the hijacking incident.

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