Stuck in Hotel During Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Prof. Escapes

On the night of Nov. 26, Sloan Professor Eric von Hippel SM ’68 was awoken by explosions and gunshots from his room at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. Von Hippel experienced and survived the terrorist attack that devastated one of India’s largest and most developed cities.

Terrorists attacked several iconic spots around South Mumbai in a three-day siege that finally ended on Saturday. Among the sites attacked included the Oberoi Hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel near the famous Gateway of India, and the historic railway station formerly known as the Victoria Terminus. Police reported nearly 200 deaths and over 300 wounded from the string of coordinated attacks. According to the New York Times, about 30 died at the Oberoi Hotel where von Hippel was a guest.

After escaping the attack site, von Hippel penned an e-mail to friends and colleagues describing his survival story during the terrorist attacks.

When he was awoken at 10:30 p.m., von Hippel did not know what was occurring. He heard people smashing the hotel’s windows in an attempt to let out smoke, which was entering their rooms through the bottom of the doors.

Exiting his room on the sixteenth floor, von Hippel found that most of the hotel was filled with thick smoke.

“I had no idea that terrorists were involved, taking hostages in the lobby restaurants and so on,” said von Hippel. As there were no notifications from hotel staff, “I assumed there had been some kind of accident.”

Unlike the other guests who stayed in their rooms and attempted to break the windows, he decided to leave the building.

Grabbing his passport and a few other essentials, von Hippel covered his nose and mouth with a wet towel and started towards the exit sign and the emergency stairwell. “The smoke was REALLY thick and maybe the atrium lighting was out too — it was impossible to tell because you could not see your hand in front of you,” he wrote.

At 11:30 p.m., von Hippel finally exited the hotel to find the police standing around, seemingly unsure of what to do. “I could hear occasional explosions or gunfire from inside our hotel lobby and also from other nearby sites.”

Von Hippel tried to make his way to the airport, but the police wanted people to stay within a protected area.

He later met a reporter who interviewed and took pictures of him. The reporter helped him bypass the security and flagged him a cab to the airport.

“We were let through three successive roadblocks by showing my passport, and that was that.” From there, von Hippel took the plane to Ahmedabad, a city a couple of hundred miles away from Mumbai, where he was to give a talk and where he wrote his e-mail.