Inside the hotel: 'There were bodies on the TV. Then they cut the signal'
Sunday 30 November 2008
He drank beers from the mini-bar, watched DVDs and did his best to convince his worried family that everything was all right. Then, having received the all-clear after spending 41 hours barricaded inside his hotel room, Paul Archer made plans to return again to India next week.
The 28-year-old from Darlington, in Mumbai for business, locked himself inside his room on the 14th floor of the Trident-Oberoi hotel after hearing explosions on Wednesday night. Though his TV stopped working, he was able to keep in touch with family and friends in India and at home and learn of the drama playing out all around him. "I did not believe it until I looked out of the window," he said, referring to the police he could see and the explosions he could hear. From time to time, he would look through the spyhole in his door to see if he could see anything or anyone. As it was he never saw any of the gunmen who had taken control of the hotel complex, or any of the bodies of those people killed. "You have to try to make light of the situation. You have to try to stay calm."
Back in Darlington, his mother, Kathleen Archer, was watching events unfold on the TV when her son rang at 7.30pm to tell her he was caught up in the chaos. Mrs Archer said: "I didn't know which hotel he was in, so at first it didn't even occur to me he would be in trouble. When he rang, it was such a shock. I couldn't believe he was in the hotel I was watching on TV."
His father, Dave Archer, hurried home from work and both parents spent a nerve-racking night flicking between news channels, looking for any signs of an end to the siege. They began to fear the worst when Paul stopped responding to their texts and phone calls at 1am. Mr Archer said: "We were starting to hear about more and more casualties and couldn't get in touch with Paul for nearly two hours. We couldn't help but fear the worst, but thankfully he had just dropped off out of sheer exhaustion; that was a low moment for us."
They broke the news to Paul's younger sister Sally on Friday morning when she dropped off her three-year-old son Kyle before work. Mr Archer said: "They have always been very close, so it was really hard for her; she just burst into tears. Kyle knew there was something wrong. As we watched the commandos going into the hotel on the news, he asked: 'Are they the goodies coming to help Uncle Paul?' That had us all close to tears."
In his room by himself, perhaps the toughest challenge for Paul was dealing with a lack of reliable information about what was going on at the hotel. "I was watching the TV and they had all these pictures of dead bodies and stuff. They should not have put that out," he said. "But then they cut the signal, and that was even worse."
Paul had arrived in Mumbai from the Indian hinterland on the evening of the attack. Tired, he had chosen to eat room service rather than in one of the hotel's restaurants – a decision that may have saved his life. The management consultant finally left for the airport on Friday. His father said that he was going to Jakarta to see his fiancée and would return to India next week to finish the work that was disrupted by the attacks.
Mr Archer said: "We've been lucky because he stayed in his room and managed to keep out of the way, so yes, I'm relieved. But I'm also angry and stunned. These terrorists have left hundreds of people dead, and God knows what their families are going through. I can't understand what would make people do something like this."
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