Survivors of Regent Plaza fire share the horror

Updated 06 Dec 2016


STAFF and guests are being evacuated from the hotel in the early hours of Monday morning.—White Star
STAFF and guests are being evacuated from the hotel in the early hours of Monday morning.—White Star

KARACHI: “Only my son escaped unhurt. My wife, daughter and myself have all landed in hospital,” said Naveed Khurram, one of the injured being treated at the Aga Khan Hospital after a narrow brush with death in the Regent Plaza Hotel fire which left 12 dead and 80 injured here on Monday.

Khurram, the administrator at the Kunri Christian Hospital in Tharparkar, said he had returned only yesterday from Edinburgh where he was doing a master’s in Global Health. “My wife Dr Fouzia, who is a general surgeon at the hospital, my daughter and son came down to receive me in Karachi. Later, we booked rooms at Regent Plaza for the night before returning to Tharparkar,” he said.

Narrating his horrific experience, Khurram said he was woken up at around 4am by a strange noise coming from outside his room. “It sounded like heavy construction work going on,” he said. But when he opened their hotel room door there was smoke everywhere. “I quickly shut the door but then there was smoke coming from underneath the door, too,” he said.

That’s when he woke up his wife and children. The children aged seven and four where scared. Since there was too much smoke coming from inside, Khurram thought of breaking the window to escape from there. “We had poolside view. I picked up the floor lamp and broke the glass window pane with it,” he said.

‘She missed the mattress and fractured her right arm and left foot’

“We were on the second floor. The roof of the first floor was not that far below. I jumped barefooted first and told my wife to throw out the children to me one by one. I managed to catch my four-year-old son but almost missed my seven-year-old daughter who dislocated a shoulder in the fall. Next I told my wife to throw me a mattress so that she could jump on it later. But she had misplaced her prescription glasses so when she jumped, she missed the mattress and fractured her right arm and left foot in the process.” he said.

Next the family had to make it to ground floor. Khurram said that he grabbed his son and stepped a few feet backwards to create a run-up for himself to be able to jump into the swimming pool. He managed to do it only barely. Another hotel guest who had managed to reach the first floor from the fourth helped bring his daughter to the ground while his wife had to jump again. This time she fractured her right leg in the process. “The pool, too, had shards of glass in it as others had also broken down their windows to escape. “I wish there was a fire alarm and a fire exit for such emergencies at the hotel. But there was no such thing there,” said Khurram.

Another hotel guest, Khalid Khan from Peshawar, said he was a senior purser with Pakistan International Airlines who had always stayed at Regent Plaza without any issues up until now. “I was woken up by my own coughing. That’s when I noticed smoke in my room. I rushed to the door but encountered more blinding smoke down the corridor as well. I was on the sixth floor. I backed into my room and broke the window with a chair. But it was a long way down. I couldn’t make it that way,” he said.

“Our airline had trained us for such emergencies. I took a damp towel to wrap around my nose and mouth before grabbing my torch and taking the corridor route out. There were other people running out that way, too, and I followed them to finally reach outside. But I received several cuts from the broken glass and inhaled a lot of smoke despite the damp towel,” he said.

UBL cricket team shaken up

The hotel was also hosting the United Bank Limited cricket team featuring in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. “There were 10 of us staying at the hotel,” Hammad Azam, who sprained his left foot while being helped out through the window by the rescue team, told Dawn. “I was sharing a room with Umar Siddiq on the fourth floor. We woke up coughing from the smoke and screams for help. No one from the hotel came to warn us about the fire. Neither was there any smoke alarm anywhere,” he said.

Just next door there was a family stuck on their balcony screaming for help. Hammad helped them climb into their balcony and then into their room from there. They were all rescued by firefighters from there. “There was no exit from inside. And even if there were, there was so much smoke that we couldn’t have made it alive from there. We were saved by fire fighters with ladders from the outside,” said the young all-rounder.

Test cricketer Umar Amin, who was on the eighth floor, was also rescued that way. Meanwhile, another UBL cricketer, Karamat Ali, who also had a room on the fourth floor, received several cuts from shards of broken glass panes. Yasim Murtaza, who was on the second floor, jumped out to save his life and fractured his foot. Mohammad Sudais is still suffereing from smoke inhalation as are some other team members. But all have now been moved to Pearl Continental. “The first thing I checked when changing hotels was the fire exits,” Hammad said.

Due to the fire incident at the hotel, the match between United Bank Limited and Habib Bank Limited of the Super Eight round of Quaid-i-Azam Trophy has also been abandoned as UBL manager Nadeem Khan informed the Pakistan Cricket Board’s domestic committee that his players were in no condition to resume the match.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016