Mumbai: 3 days on, couple still searching their cat, who went missing at T2 airport
Couple flying from Mumbai to Bengaluru loses pet at T2's baggage make-up area after animal breaks free from cage; three days on, search still underway
Bhutia is still searching for Evaluna making regular trips to the airport
Only those who have ever lost their pets, however briefly, can understand the pain. Because that's what Atisha Penjor Bhutia, 28, and his partner Shruti Menon, 28, are going through right now. On February 5, the two were flying from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport's T2 to Bengaluru with their two pet cats, Evaluna and Osgot, by Air India flight no. AI609 at 8.15 pm when the incident happened.
Atisha Penjor Bhutia and Shruti Menon
"We wanted to take the cats with us in the cabin and had them in proper cages. But at the counter, they told us that the limit for animals allowed in cabin is five kg, whereas earlier, when we had called the office, they had said it was seven kg per person," said Bhutia. "So, we had to check them in. We completed the necessary procedure, filed the required papers and headed to our boarding gate."
In a matter of minutes
Within 25 minutes, before the two could even reach their gate, Bhutia got a call on his cellphone from Air India saying that one of their cats had escaped. He told Menon to go ahead, cancelled his ticket and ran back to the counter, where he found out that Evaluna had escaped from the cage from near the baggage make-up area (BMA). "I was at the airport for nearly 12 hours, till 6 am, waiting for them to find my cat, but the authorities were not able to." He then went to Sahar police station to lodge a complaint.
"The cops told me to look at the CCTV footage, giving me permission for the same. I went to the CISF control room and saw the footage. Evaluna had been dropped off in the cage at the BMA by a staffer, from where a pickup truck was supposed to collect it. As the staffer walked away from the cage, in 30 seconds, she broke free. Some people tried to catch her, but she got so scared that she ran further away."
When mid-day got in touch with Ramakant Kahvalia, terminal manager for Air India at T2, he said: "It was their mistake; the cage was not foolproof. I went on Thursday afternoon to check the cage and tell all workers and staffers in the BMA to remain alert for the cat, but the animal has not been spotted yet. When the cat escaped, some of my staff even tried to catch it, but they ended up getting scratched."
Search still on
According to Bhutia, the gap between the time they dropped off their cats at the counter and the time of the call was not more than 25 minutes. "I went around 1 am on February 8 to the airport with two friends and got permission to search for my pet. We took her litter and food along, and distributed flyers and posters at the airport. Some airport staffers said they had seen Eva at the wet waste area a few hours before my arrival. I am exhausted but optimistic; a lot of people have come forward to help me find her," he said.
"I had triple-checked if I had locked the cage properly. The responsibility of transporting the cats was the airline's. Security in the cargo area could've been tighter. I thought there would be a seal around the gate where the cages would be put, but that wasn't the case." When asked whether he had checked the cage lock, Bhutia said: "It was a brand new cage; I had bought it a day prior to my travel. Before checking the cats in, I had even looked at the lock to make sure it was fine, and only after that put the stickers on it." As of yesterday, there was still no sign of Evaluna. Bhutia, along with AI and airport staff, is trying to find her, but no luck yet.