The call was made five minutes after twin blasts ripped through Zaventem airport in Brussels at 7.00 am GMT (11.30 am IST) on Tuesday. It was by Jet Airways in-flight supervisor Amit Motwani to his office, saying: “There has been a blast.” Before noon, the airlines had confirmed the news and made a call to the Chapekar residence in suburban Mumbai. Nidhi Chapekar, 40, a Jet Airways in-flight manager, had been injured along with Motwani.
The two were proceeding towards the airport exit when the blasts took place. Their colleagues had made a lucky escape through the same exit just minutes before.
The image of a terror-stricken and dazed Chapekar in a bright yellow jacket, blood streaming down her nose and burn injuries visible on her hands, is the only reassurance to her family, located some 7,000 km away in Mumbai’s Andheri East, that she is alive.
By early Thursday morning, after visa formalities are complete, Motwani’s two brothers and Chapekar’s husband and brother-in-law are scheduled to take a flight to Paris, from where they plan to drive down to Brussels.
“Brussels airport continues to be closed for operations. Jet Airways is coordinating with Belgian authorities to make alternate travel plans for its guests and crew from Brussels. We are also working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the India Embassy in Brussels to facilitate passage of our staff and guests,” a Jet Airways spokesperson said.
For two days, the families of the Indian crew members unsuccessfully tried to reach out to various helpline numbers flashing on news channels. “I have tried one helpline number over 20 times. It’s either switched off or not in service,” said Nilesh Chapekar, Nidhi’s brother-in-law. Her children, Vridhi, 11, and Vardhaan, 14, were told their mother had met with an accident.
By Wednesday evening, after visas were approved, the fourth floor flat of the Chapekars appeared a little less tense. “Her kids will be coming home from school soon. We have to tell them about their mother,” said Nilesh.
Chapekar, originally from Amritsar, used to live with her sister in Mumbai while working with Jet as a cabin crew member. It is in Mumbai that she met Rupesh Chapekar, who owns a factory in Chakala, and married him 16 years ago. She has worked with the airlines for the last 20 years, gradually rising to the rank of an in-flight manager.
Motwani, who lives in upscale Khar, finished schooling from St Anthony High School and graduated from MMK College in Bandra. His brother Manish, a businessman, spent the entire day at the Belgian embassy filling up documents so he could meet his brother.
Motwani’s Facebook page shows he has been working with Jet since 2005, and that loves to travel. Before leaving for Belgium, he had celebrated New Year in Paris and then headed to Jodhpur with a friend.
Late Monday night, Motwani had left home to report on duty. Flight 228 took off from Mumbai at 2.30 am Tuesday and reached Brussels at 7.50 am, local time. From there, he was to join another Jet Airways flight to New York.
While his family requested privacy as they tried to understand the situation in Brussels, Motwani took to Facebook to inform everyone that he was alright. “Marked safe at Brussels,” his post said.
Though anxious, Chapekars have decided not ask Nidhi to leave her job. “It can happen anywhere — to you, to me,” said Nilesh.
Her husband said he is glad he will be able to see her, and bring her back to her children, soon. “She just happened to be there. Why should terror attacks make someone leave their work,” he said.
Jet Airways Update:
“Following explosions at Brussels airport earlier today, the airport will remain closed till Wednesday, March 23, 2016.
As a result, the following Jet Airways flights have been cancelled:
1) March 23, 2016: Flights from Brussels to Newark, Toronto, Mumbai and Delhi
2) March 23, 2016: Flights from Newark and Toronto to Brussels
3) March 24, 2016: Flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Brussels
Helpline number: Friends and families of guests can contact the Brussels Airport Crisis Center on +32 2 27537300 for further information