IGI Airport troubled with fake bomb calls!
Mail Today | New Delhi, March 28, 2016 | UPDATED 03:46 IST
The Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), New Delhi for the past one week, has turned into a centre for fake bomb calls even as the Delhi Police has failed to identify even a single accused.
The hoax calls affect the operations of at least 20 flights in a week time frame alone.
Another hoax call at IGI, two flights stuck
TNN | Mar 18, 2016, 12.15 AM IST
New Delhi: A multilayer security ring was thrown around the IGI airport on Thursday morning after a caller, who identified himself as a CBI officer, claimed that time bombs had been planted on two outgoing flights scheduled to take off soon
Hoax Call Triggers Bomb Scare In Five Jet Airways Flights in India
India News | | Tuesday March 22, 2016 | 19:11 IST
On the heels of the terror strikes at Brussels airport, a hoax call put five Jet Airways flights on bomb alert today.
The call came in at 1:50 am in the night.
The agent at the call centre of Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi was a new hire. She had started taking calls just a week ago after her training. She was nervous but determined to make it in her new career.
“Hello,” the sound was raspy and words were difficult to make out. There was a hiss of static on the line. The caller was male.
“Good Evening, you have reached the New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport Helpline, sir. May I have your name?” asked the call centre agent.
“My name is James” the caller said.
“Hello James, how can I help you?” asked the agent.
“I want to report a bomb on a flight” continued the caller.
The agent was new but trained to handle such calls. The airport, sometimes, got over forty such calls a day. She immediately flagged her supervisor and raised a flag on her computer screen. The flag started a series of the emergency procedures. Automatic call recording was already running but the call trace systems now kicked into gear. Her supervisor’s screen flashed a prompt. He stood up immediately from his seat, walked down the bay and came over to stand behind her. This gave her confidence and she straightened her back.
“Could you repeat that sir?” said the agent while her supervisor plugged into her call silently overhearing the conversation.
“I told you earlier. I want to report there is a bomb in the Delhi Mumbai fight of Indian Airlines IC 231” said the caller. The static went louder and other noises invaded the call.
The Supervisor picked up a whiteboard and wrote “KEEP HIM TALKING” with red ink.
“How do you know that sir?” asked the agent politely silently acknowledging the supervisor’s instruction with the next logical question that came to her mind.
“I just know it. Worry about bomb and the passengers,” replied the caller in raspy voice, a bit annoyed now.
The supervisor by then wrote and prompted her “ASK HIM WHERE IS IT?”
“Where is the bomb placed sir?” asked the agent staring at the supervisor who nodded encouragement at how well she was handing the call till now.
“I don’t know but you better hurry. It’s just taken off so you don’t have too much time,” said the caller before disconnecting.
The call raised all kinds of alarms and woke up the important people of all manner up from sleep. Assistant Commissioner of Police Vikram Rathore fortunately had not slept, so reached the control room quickly. He was the Police officer in charge for the New Delhi Airport. He had not slept because of a fight with his wife. The fight had started after dinner over a discussion on his erratic work hours and had escalated to his erratic mom, who was visiting for a few days. It continued into the bedroom where they eventually made up with sex as most married couples do. He had not been able to sleep after that, a bit annoyed with his wife who had no such problem and was snoring softly when his beeper went off.
The control room was a cordoned off area where Vikram was waiting for his deputy, Inspector Rana Singh to join him as he played the call recording. Inspector Rana Sigh’s wife was the one who heard the beeper. It was her life’s greatest suffering that she was the light sleeper and Rana would sleep like a log. She woke him annoyed and nearly kicked him out of bed so he could shut off the beeper.
“Indian?” asked Rana entering the control room where Vikram was listening to the call recording intently.
Vikram was the chalk to Rana’s cheese, well spoken, almost soft in his demeanour while Rana was a loudmouth lout who slapped first and asked questions after. Vikram was the brain and Rana was the muscle of the unit. They made a great team.
“The voice accent says so,” said Vikram grimacing as he concentrated to make out the words on the call, “but name he gave was James.”
The location trace failed as the call originated from the Internet. Like most callers this one too was using some form of free site to make a call making it almost impossible to trace. The airport struggled with this problem on such calls almost every time.
Vikram though had found something in the recording. His expressions were grave with a look of intense concentration.
“What?” asked Rana.
“The background noise. It’s hard to make out but right towards the end I hear something familiar. I can’t place it though I have heard it before”, said Vikram pensively. They listened to the segment again a few more times to no avail.
Then the control room door opened to admit the Security Head of the Airport. As he walked in, the open door also allowed in the myriad sounds of the airport to enter the sound proof control room.
Both sat shocked as they heard the sound they had been struggling to identify. It was the ringtone that preceded all airport announcements. A pong they heard so many times every day, it had become a part of their everyday sounds, so familiar and so frequent, it had moved to their psyche’s background. It usually alerted passengers to an arrival or departure announcement.
“The bastard’s at the Airport,” said a shocked Rana turning to Vikram.
This was a first for them.
“The aircraft is twenty minutes out? Should we call it back?” broke in the Head of Security.
The security procedure was to call the aircraft back, put it in an isolated hanger then turn it inside out with sniffer dogs and bomb disposal units.
“No” said Rana, while Vikram was about to say yes, surprising him. Vikram looked at Rana and raised an eyebrow.
“He is at the airport. The moment we bring the flight back, it will delay all the other flights. He is at the airport watching this, so he will see that we have delayed all flights,” said Rana intently.
“So?” asked Vikram
“So, what happens when there is no flights delay announcement and everything looks normal?” asked Rana excitedly.
“He will have to call again,” said Vikram smiling with realisation, “and that’s when we can catch him.”
The Head of Security looks bewildered “What do you guys mean?”
“Sir,” said Vikram turning to the Security head, “this caller is at the Airport somewhere. He has to be a traveller with a ticket or someone in the common area of departures where we allow people without a ticket to see off their loved ones. If we don’t raise an alarm, he will call back and if we monitor the CCTV cameras we will have a chance of catching him.”
“Vikram,” said the Head of Security, “What if the threat is real? We may have a flight with a bomb in the air.”
“It’s a hoax sir” said Rana butting in, “just like 99% of all the calls we get. But this time we have a chance of catching this guy.”
“We can’t ignore a threat this big on a hunch, Rana” said the Head of Security.
“Give us twenty minutes Sir” said Vikram, “There is no immediate departure for the next sixty minutes so there will be no delay announcement. But these twenty minutes silence can help us nab this criminal.”
“You have fifteen minutes Vikram,” said the Head of Security walking out, “Then I ask the flight IC231 to return and start delaying all the other flights.
They ran to the customer care centre and the CCTV control room which were fortunately adjacent. Vikram entered the customer care to tell them to expect a call again and Rana took over the CCTV room. He immediately started to bully all the employees for extra vigil to identify their hoax caller. Any person loitering with a phone looking suspicious and trying to be inconspicuous. They focused on the departures common area filled with passengers and their guests, and also had the most cameras trained on it.
Five minutes passed. Rana and Vikram looked at each other. Their tension had rubbed on to the employees in both the centres and there was a sullen hush all around.
The air itself held its breath. Ten minutes crossed.
Then the call came. It was the caller again.
Fortunately, this time the call went to a more experienced woman call centre agent. They surrounded her workstation and Vikram plugged into this call silently so he could overhear the conversation.
“I told you but it seems you do not believe me,” said the caller irritably, “There is a bomb on the Delhi Mumbai flight IC231. The bomb is on the flight and it will explode unless you take me seriously.”
“What do you want us to do sir?” Asked the call centre agent on Vikram’s prompt on the white board, “ASK FOR PROOF.”
“Unless we have some proof we cannot call the flight back. That is the security procedure.”
“To hell with your security procedure,” shouted the caller, “I am warning you. Save the lives on the plane. Bring it back.”
The caller then hung up. Vikram ran to the CCTV room searching for Rana.
“Did you find him?” asked Vikram.
There was an amazed look at Rana’s face.
“We found him. He was in the departures viewing gallery where he threw the phone down in disgust after the call. It made it easier to identify him. The security team has him in custody now.”
“Let’s go, talk to the bastard,” said Vikram with a sigh of relief. He thanked the folks at the command and the call centre for their help.
They walked towards the holding area where the security team had put the caller into a sterile room. Rana got a call as they walked leisurely towards the security area.
“The Head of security has still called the flight back and delayed the rest of the flights,” informed Rana after hanging up the call. It was procedure and even though they had the caller in custody, the airport security team was taking no chances. The aircraft was on the way back for a thorough check up. The aircraft’s return cost wasted money but security of the passengers took precedence over costs.
The security team handed over the billfold and mobile they had confiscated from the caller as Vikram entered the security area. The documents identified the caller as Raman Verma, staying in the Lajpat Nagar area of Delhi. He was an accountant with a private firm that manufactured bathroom tiles. These details were too normal, thought Vikram, they did not fit into the profile of a bomber or an entity that wanted to bomb an Indian plane. There was no jihadist pamphlets or messages on this person’s phone. His messages were the normal messages of any phone user. Something wasn’t right and not sitting well with Vikram.
Raman Verma sat in a sterile room staring at the one-way mirror. He was nerdy, with pinched dark circled eyes, lips down-turned in a permanent dismal sneer. His brown worn out suit surrounded him like an air of misery much like other red eye travellers after a long dreary flight, tired of their exhausting life. He did not look like any bomber or terrorist that they had even seen.
They entered the room. Vikram took the chair opposite him and Rana took his place behind Vikram’s chair.
Raman Verma looked at them insolently and smiled. He did not know how deep a problem he was in.
“So Mr. Raman Verma, we know who you are. We also know where you work. Do you want to tell us why you reported a hoax bomb threat for that flight?” asked Vikram politely.
“If you know everything then why are you asking me?” said Raman Verma insolently.
Rana moved before Vikram could react and slapped the caller two times.
Raman Verma’s eyes went wide with shock. This was not the reaction he had expected in his wildest dreams. The seriousness was now hitting him hard and stinging strongly on his cheeks.
“My wife and children are on that flight,” said Raman Verma sullenly looking at Rana, “She left me today and is taking the children with her for good. She was so smug about it and I wanted to see my children again. I also wanted to teach her a lesson.”
“But why a bomb hoax call?” asked Vikram now intrigued, “There are other ways to meet your children. You could fly to them.”
“I was standing in the viewing gallery watching her take my children and overheard two people taking behind the snack vending machine about a bomb scenario at the airport. I had come near the machine as I did not want anyone to see my tears. They could not see that I was standing there.” said Raman Verma.
“What were they saying?” asked Vikram with polite disinterest.
“They were talking softly so I had to strain to hear. They were saying someone would make the bomb call today. All the flights in the air would have to come back and no flights would depart till security cleared them,” said Raman Verma.
“I thought it was a prank but the idea took root in me. This was a way to bring my children back even if for a day. I wanted to see them so badly one more time,” said Raman and started crying.
Vikram looked at Rana puzzled. Then he picked up the phone and called the customer care head frantically. The hoax bomb caller was in custody so everyone was off guard.
“Was there any other bomb call?” Screamed Vikram, “Have you received any other call with a bomb threat today? Different from the one we heard?”
“Let me check with the team” said the Customer Care Head now wide awake. He knew when not to ask stupid questions. They ran towards the control room again.
“Yes” said the Customer Care Head panicked, “Another call came through the same time as the second call from this Raman Verma guy. A similar call, bomb threat for the same flight. It was a short call that cut off abruptly. The agents and team at my end thought it was the same caller and in this confusion missed reporting the second call.”
“Get that call recording and run a trace,” Vikram ordered frantically.
“The flight is on the way back, just fifteen minutes before it lands at Delhi again” informed Rana after speaking to the Head of Security.
They reached the control room just as the new call started playing on the speakers.
“Good Evening you have reached the New Delhi Airport Helpline sir. May I have your name?” asked the call centre agent.
“My name is Jim,” said the caller.
This time the accent was not Indian and the call had much more static with a mild echo.
“How can I help you Mr. Jim?” asked the agent.
“I want to report the flight from Delhi to Mumbai IC231 is carrying a bomb.” The caller said.
After a moment, the agent said, “May I ask you to repeat that Sir?”
“You heard it right. The flight has a bomb. We, the Friends of Azad Kashmir Jihad, have planted this bomb against the imperialistic Indian government. To teach you a lesson…”
The call abruptly ended.
“What happened?” Asked Vikram bewildered at the abrupt disconnection.
“That’s the complete call,” said the Customer Care Head, “The connection broke and my agent thought it was the same caller. And just as he started to report it, the second call from Raman Verma came and we answered that thinking it to be the same caller. You reached the control room by then and we listened to the call by Raman Verma”
They all ran to the control tower. Vikram raised the red code, informing the Head of Security. The security establishment at the airport kicked into gear. All flights delayed, the security teams manned all gates rigorously. All teams around the airport were on high alert and the bomb disposal team started to prepare for the aircraft’s arrival.
Control tower made sure that runways were clear. Every security protocol running, the ambulance with medical staff was on standby. Indian Airlines flight IC231 was now visible to the tower.
The pilot, alerted earlier, had announced a technical snag because of which they were returning back to New Delhi. Vikram and Rana held their breath with the entire security detail as Flight IC 231 approached the runway for landing.
In its final descent, it lowered its wheels and the pilot cautiously approached the runway. A hundred meters away from the main runway on its final approach, it exploded!
Flight IC231 never made it back to Delhi.
In a security room, Raman Verma screamed as the blast sound reached him and cried for the family he had lost.
The aircraft was carrying over two hundred people and the debris spread over a square kilometre area adjacent to the airport. Despite the police and security teams’ best effort to keep them out, the locals invaded this area to search for survivors. Everyone tried to help but there were no survivors and the security team tried to cordon off the area. But it was too late by then. Some locals had run off with passenger’s luggage and any other item they could get their hands on. An entire jeep full of luggage and aircraft’s parts disappeared. The airport security agencies and the local police had no coordination.
Some local politicians had, by then, started to make their way to the blast site. A local MLA fought with the police and his supporters trampled over key evidence in the blast area as he gave a fiery speech lambasting the government and their failure to stop terrorism in the back drop of the burning plane parts. Multiple news channels vans too invaded the debris site area.
Vikram looked on helplessly as the spectacle of politics played out over the grave of his evidence and investigation.
The next day, three Jihadist organisations with loose links to Kashmir terror organisations took credit for the bombing of flight IC231. Jihadist chatter on the Internet increased threefold.
On the second day, a news channel reported citing “anonymous sources” that the bomb was the handiwork by a group loosely associated with Pakistan. There was no evidence to substantiate this claim. Members of another political party started chanting anti-Pakistan slogans in front of the airport and asked the Home Minister of the Indian government to resign immediately by taking a moral responsibility of the blast.
On the third day, a humane charitable organisation called for a massive rally to pray for the soul of the people killed in the unfortunate bombing. The peaceful gathering turned ugly as some rowdy elements started stone pelting. Three people were killing in the Police retaliatory firing after the lathi charge. In the stampede that followed, fifteen people died and seventy five people sustained minor to major injuries. The press condemned the Police force’s action. The Home Ministry suspended two senior officials from duty and transferred five other officials.
On the fourth day, the IGI Airport Security announced they had suspended three officials including the Head of Security for lapses in the handling of the events leading to the explosion on flight IC231. The Home Ministry took a detailed debriefing from the various agencies involved. In the press conference that followed, the Home Minister assured the nation that the agencies were following concrete leads. He would actively oversee the investigation.
By the fifth day, another news channel reported a scathing criticism of how the Airport Security team was aware of the threat but did not act. The Airport security was blamed for inaction that cost innocent lives. All kinds of self-stylised experts commented on news channels on how the various security teams need to collaborate better if India should avert another disaster like IC231.
On the sixth day, the debris recovered from the flight IC231 was placed in hanger B of the IGI airport and a police detail of two constables stood guard on it. Unknown to them, a gang of robbers with links to the IGI staff entered the hanger in the dead of the night and made off with any valuables they could get a hold of in the passenger luggage further trampling key evidence. This theft was kept under wraps from the media and the public.
After ten days, the Indian government announced that a special task force would be formed under the CBI which would investigate the IC231 bombing. The task force, headed by a retired CBI chief would constitute members of every agency. Neither Vikram nor Rana were assigned to this task force.
After fifteen days, the cricket world cup started and the news channels moved on the scandal involving match fixing and an affair between a B town starlet and the current cricketing superstar.
After twenty days, new measures were announced by the Airport authority for security of passengers. The new Airport Security head held a press conference and announced stricter measures.
The IGI airport still receives over one hundred and fifty to two hundred calls a week which are bomb threat calls. 99% of these are hoax. In most of the cases, it is impossible to trace the caller.
Vikram Rathore was transferred to another department and passed over for promotion twice.
Inspector Rana Singh was also transferred to a police station in the Old Delhi area. In an encounter with armed gunmen, Rana Singh lost his life the next year. His name was put up for the gallantry awards but was rejected at the last stage of selection by an official babu who read his involvement in the IC231 bombing in his personal file.
Raman Verma never saw his family again. He has been in various Indian jails for five years now. His lawyers have been desperately trying to prove that he had no connection to the bomb on flight IC231 that killed over two hundred innocent people.
So far they have been unsuccessful.