Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Mumbai massacre: Inside room 2115 - 'We climbed into the bath and hid'

** ALTERNATE CROP ** A firefighter rescues guests of The Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. Teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India's financial capital Wednesday night, killing at least 78 people and taking Westerners hostage, police said. (AP Photo/Gautam Singh)

She walked, stopped, spoke into her mobile phone and allowed herself a smile. It appeared as if Gill Stephen could not quite believe she was free.

For more than 36 hours, she had been barricaded inside room 2115 at the Trident-Oberoi while commandos battled with militants but yesterday lunchtime, the university employee from Leicester was escorted out of the building. Last night she was scheduled to fly back to the UK.



"I was on the 21st floor and on the Wednesday night, I heard an explosion," she said as she boarded a bus to the airport and a flight back to the UK. "I looked into the corridor but could not see anything. There was another guest, a woman from Hong Kong, and she came into my room and we stayed together."



The two women locked the door to the room and forced it tight with luggage and furniture. To sustain them through the long hours, they turned to the mini-bar and made the best use of its peanuts and chocolate.



Although she was able to watch television and access the internet for much of the ordeal, Mrs Stephen said she felt surreally cut off from the events taking place around her. But at times it was also terrifying; watching a television news report that said flames had taken hold of the hotel, she and the other woman placed wet towels across their faces. As it transpired, the fire did not get close so they removed the towels.



At another point, hearing a volley of shots and explosions, the pair of them climbed into the bath and covered themselves with pillows. "It was not a big bath," she said. "There was not a lot of room for one person, never mind two. After about five minutes we both felt ridiculous and climbed out. There was another Brit in the hotel. He was on his own in a room and I think he was just randomly dialling other numbers to speak with people. I think it was harder for people on their own."



Mrs Stephen, 45, works for De Montfort University interviewing prospective Indian students who wish to study in Leicester. She has made many trips to India, a country she loves, and, despite her ordeal, plans to return again next year.



The most frightening moments had been the final hours as commandos cleared the hotel of gunmen. Looking outside her window she could see the soldiers and hear gunshots. At times, the firing was intense. The end came sometime after noon when the two women received a telephone call from hotel officials. They were told that there would soon be a knock on the door and that staff would collect them. "I opened the door and there was a mixture of people – police, hotel staff and commandos," she said.



Speaking from Leicester, Mrs Stephen's husband, Alan, said he was relieved his wife had walked out unharmed. The couple had spoken by phone every hour and Mrs Stephen said she believed the ordeal was probably more difficult for her husband than her. "I am absolutely elated about Gill, she has been fantastic," said Mr Stephen. "But of course our thoughts and prayers go to the families of those who have died. We have nothing but praise for the people of India. Everybody has been fantastic to us."

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