24-hr ordeal for US-bound passengers, as airline dumps them in Iceland

Updated: Dec 28, 2014, 08:51 IST | Neha LM Tripathi & Nimesh Dave |

A Mumbai family spent eight hours fearing the worst, after the US-bound Turkish Airlines plane carrying their close kin ended up in Reykjavik, and no contact could be made with the passengers or the carrier

A family from the city spent eight agonising hours not knowing what had become of their relatives, after a Chicago-bound Turkish Airlines flight they had boarded took an unexpected detour to Iceland and the passengers were unreachable.

The incident occurred with Pankaj Shah, whose brother-in-law Nimesh Mehta (54), a businessman based in Chicago, was on his way back home after attending a family function in Mumbai.

Pankaj Shah (left) and his family feared that the flight carrying Nimesh Mehta and his aunt Sarojben had been hijacked, because Mehta couldn’t be contacted for eight hours
Pankaj Shah (left) and his family feared that the flight carrying Nimesh Mehta and his aunt Sarojben had been hijacked, because Mehta couldn’t be contacted for eight hours

Mehta, along with his 70-year-old aunt Sarojben Shah, was onboard flight TK 721, which took off for Istanbul at 7 am Indian Standard Time (IST) on December 23. The duo was supposed to board TK 5 of the same airline at 5 pm (IST), which was scheduled to land in Chicago the next day at 6 am IST.

Nimesh Mehta in Reykjavik, Iceland
Nimesh Mehta in Reykjavik, Iceland

No contact
Instead, the flight ended up in Reykjavik, Iceland. Mehta later told mid-day from Iceland, “After landing, we were told that the aircraft had to land in Iceland due to a medical emergency and technical snag. We were made to sit in the aircraft itself for three hours.”

He added, “We were all clueless and didn’t know how to react. We had to reach Chicago, but only when we got out of the aircraft were we told we had reached Iceland instead of Chicago.”

Meanwhile, Sarojben’s sons reached the airport in Chicago to receive the duo (it was already the next day December 24 in India). Upon being informed by staff that the flight had been cancelled, they were flummoxed. “When we were informed that the flight had been cancelled, we just didn’t know what to do.

Had the flight been cancelled, my husband would have informed me. His phone wasn’t reachable,” said Mehta’s wife Shiela from Chicago. Shiela then contacted her brother, Pankaj Shah in Virar, for help. Shah left no stone unturned and tried contacting the airline office both in Mumbai and in Istanbul.

“The airline’s lack of response made us panic. We tried calling on all the mentioned contact numbers online, but none of the phone calls were answered. We feared the flight had been hijacked, as neither the airline staff nor Mehta were available.” The family spent nerve-wracking hours hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Finally, at 2 pm IST on December 24, eight hours after the scheduled time of arrival of the flight in Chicago, Mehta was able to get through to his family. “We got a call at around 2 pm informing us that they had landed in Iceland but were absolutely clueless as to what was happening. He mentioned that everything was dark there.

But we felt better; at least the aircraft hadn’t been hijacked. His words, though, continued to worry us,” Shah said. Mehta’s daughter Nishi called up the airline at 4 pm IST to know when the flight would leave for Chicago, to which she was told that the aircraft was in Iceland and would reach Chicago by the end of the day.

When Shiela last spoke to her husband at 6 pm IST yesterday, he informed her that after waiting at a hotel for 12 hours, the airline had announced they were being taken to Reykjavik airport from where they would take off for Chicago.

Thereafter, Mehta was again unreachable. “We do not know whether my brother-in-law has taken off from Iceland. Even if he has, he will reach Chicago at around 4 am IST on December 25, almost 24 hours after the scheduled time,” Shah said.

Airline speak
Pinar Somar, commercial operations manager, Turkish Airlines (Mumbai airport), said she was about to take off for Mumbai and wouldn’t be able to comment on the matter, and asked us to get in touch with the headquarters.

An official from the airline headquarters in Istanbul said, “The flight was made to land Iceland as it had one sick passenger in it. It will, however, land at 1.26 pm (Chicago time) i.e. around 1.30 am (IST) on December 25.”

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