Snake on a Plane

Continental Airlines had a cold-blooded killer on board but refused law enforcement's pleas to land

Continental Airlines Flight 82 departed from Newark, New Jersey, on the evening of March 30, bound for New Delhi, India.

One of the 300-plus passengers on the Boeing 777 jetliner attracted little attention as he boarded and settled quietly into a window seat in an emergency-exit row.

He was 32-year-old Avtar Grewal, known as Raju, a slender native of India who had been living near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Landon Armstrong

As the big bird soared to its cruising altitude, a veteran Phoenix police sergeant sitting in a van on a street in suburban Ahwatukee was making a series of urgent cell phone calls.

Sergeant Mike Palombo has a cool-under-pressure reputation (he was a key supervisor on the Baseline Killer case), but the escalating situation was testing his patience.

"I began to express my concerns to Continental about [its] lack of cooperation with us," Palombo tells New Times. "I said I did not think it was a big deal for [the airline] to turn a plane around and get a homicidal and suicidal lunatic into custody."

The "lunatic" to whom the sergeant was referring was Raju Grewal.

Inside a two-story home on East Redwood Lane, the battered body of a clothed woman was face-down in a bathtub filled with bloody water.

She was 30-year-old Navneet Kaur, Grewal's wife of two years and a project manager for Assist Technologies, a Scottsdale firm that provides touch-screen technology for pharmaceutical clinical trials.

The normally tidy home near Pecos Road and 40th Street was like "helter skelter," according to one eyewitness, a reference to the Manson Family carnage in 1969.

Blood was seemingly everywhere, chairs and tables were overturned, knives strewn about, a ceiling fan in the master bedroom pulled from its moorings, and a long piece of yellow rope fashioned into a noose nearby.

On a couch in the family room was a note written and signed by Grewal.

It said, "I killed this selfish bitch who tortured me for two years. Made my life hell. Now I will kill myself."

Evidence at the scene suggested Grewal's chosen mode of self-destruction had been hanging from the ceiling fan and cutting himself with a razor blade (in which order is uncertain).

But he was more adept at murder than at suicide, and he made a run for it instead. Grewal had a 14-hour head start on police by the time they tracked his whereabouts by accessing credit-card records and other legwork.

Flight 82 had taken off late for New Delhi, and still was in U.S. airspace as Sergeant Palombo and others pleaded with Continental officials to get the plane back to Newark, where authorities could collar their murder suspect. But police reports, interviews with key players and other data show that Continental Airlines officials rebuffed the requests.

Sergeant Palombo says an officer from the multiagency task force ACTIC (Arizona Counter-Terrorism Information Center) told him that Continental officials expressed a continuing concern about the significant cost of turning the plane around.

Airline officials allegedly wanted to know who was going to pay for thousands of dollars of fuel that Flight 82 would have had to jettison to return safely to Newark or another nearby airport so soon after departure.

A Continental representative declined repeated requests to answer specific questions about this disturbing and previously unreported clash between law enforcement and the nation's fourth-largest airline.

That spokeswoman, Julie King, wrote in a May 24 e-mail to New Times that "because of a variety of legal issues, Continental does not identify specific passengers on our flights unless required to by law or subpoena. The normal procedure in these types of situations is for local law enforcement to work with immigration authorities to detain the suspect upon arrival, which is what happened in this situation."

But Continental's lack of cooperation with police, especially in this security-heightened, post-9/11 environment, continues to vex law enforcement officials and most of the aviation-safety experts contacted by New Times for this story.

To them, it's not the point that Raju Grewal was taken into custody without incident by New Delhi authorities when Flight 82 landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport, about 14 hours after takeoff.

(Grewal remains jailed there as the process of extraditing him to Phoenix to face a first-degree murder charge moves at a glacial pace.)

Mary Schiavo, a respected aviation law attorney, author, and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, says that "beyond the altruistic motivation of helping law enforcement because they pleaded for help, we're talking here about an airline that aided and abetted the flight of a felon, and possibly hindered an ongoing investigation. Back when I was a federal prosecutor, I would have taken this to a grand jury for consideration as a criminal act.

"Can you imagine if this had been an Islamic guy from Saudi Arabia? I don't think they would have been saying, 'Oh, this guy just killed his wife, so let's let him go to New Delhi.' Instead, they blew off their obligations to the safety of their passengers, especially in this post-9/11 world."

Schiavo, a South Carolinian and private pilot who wrote the prescient 1997 book Flying Blind, Flying Safe, also says "this man had just been willing and able to take another person's life and apparently had made an effort or two at taking his own.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

It is outrageous that Continental Airlines allowed this murderous felon to get away with his crime. I also fail to understand one of the previous comments suggesting this was a "crime of passion." This was a premeditated, calculated, bloody, brutal act of domestic violence vengeance. Given this man's obvious plot to fly to Phoenix and escape to India, I have no idea how any person with any common sense could conclude that this was a "crime of passion".

True, the man was arrested on his arrival in India. Did anyone note that this differed from law enforcement's plan for him, which was to return him to the US before he legally entered India through customs? Guess they didn't read carefully enough. Instead of swiftly returning him here for trial, he is now bogged down in the Indian court system where the case will languish for years with no guarantee that he will ever be returned. This is a perversion of justice, and Continental Airlines is responsible for it.


hey this is not imaginary story ok. anyone knows wat happened after this? don't speak just for time pass. and even news paper also didn't write wat happened after this? this is really very bad. i'm pleasing, please don't write just for money. media is very powerful so help us to do something good. after flight landing here police arrested him but he didn't take back from new delhi to U.S court and he didn't punished. i'm the person from navneet sister relation. if the flight would landed there, he might be got into jail and he would get severe punishment but now the main case is not murder? how to take him back from india to U.S? and i wanted to know wat he is doing now? if the media is really taking care about people life then they should write here, after that news (don't say story) what is happening now in this case?. bye gopi

joe ryan
joe ryan

It's obvious that nobody at the Times spoke to, or should I say, listened to the people at the airline. Continental made arrangements for the guy to be picked up when they arrived in india. There was probably a marshal on the flight due to the part of the world that flight goes york, boston, london etc.I suggest the Times do a little more research before slamming the airline. This would have been a very expensive more for the airline to turn around. Think about the other 299 passengers who would have been put out because of this. Continental would most likely have had to cancel the flight when it returned because of crew duty times. That passenger went through the screening process at the airport and got through ok so it appears that he was no harm to anyone else. He was just running. it's pointless to think this guy would draw attention to himself in an environment that is already full of law enforcement of various types.joe

Chad Vanegas
Chad Vanegas

I like stories that let me make up my own mind about a topic, though this one was a tough call. I can see both points of view on it, though I think if the cops really can prove something, then the airlines or whoever should go for it. Very interesting story!

Mark Nelson
Mark Nelson

Ah, the arrogance of Law Enforcement agents. Do exactly what they say, when they say to do it, no questions or arguements allowed, no matter the cost to taxpayers and others. The exact same arrogance that is used to shut down vital freeways and transportation corridors used by hundreds of thousands of people for half a day or more while lethal accidents or murders are slowly investigated. Grewal didn't commit a cold-blooded murder, but instead a hot blooded crime of passion. No evidence was presented in the story that Grewal was a substantial or immediate threat to other passengers. No evidence of a prior history of violence. There was no way he could escape while in flight. Therefore, there was no significant reason why law enforcement couldn't wait for him to be arrested at the plane's next scheduled stop and extradited back to Phoenix, just like hundreds of other suspects are every year. Instead, law enforcement demanded a flashy turnaround that would have greatly inconvenienced hundreds of passengers and cost over a hundred thousand dollars of probably unrecoverable expenses for Continental. Good going, Continental! Thanks for having the commonsense to know that security concerns can be weighed against other factors, instead of just assuming the worst. Thanks for resisting the pressure to treat all passengers like cattle that can be herded around at the whim of government officials.


Much of this article makes no sense. For one thing, the murder suspect was arrested when the plane finished its flight and landed safely, just like any reasonable person would expect. Surely you called a number of "aviation experts" before reaching someone who thought turning around a plane full of fuel and landing it in New York with a suspected killer on board was a good idea.

If someone thinks that an airplane door can be opened in flight, and that flights from New York to Delhi get anywhere near Germany, it's silly to take their opinions on aviation safety seriously.

I'll guess that Continental recently got a call from the New Times' sales staff and said no to advertising with you?

Alexander F.
Alexander F.

Scary story. What were these people (Continental) thinking?

Alex Franklin

T. O'Sullivan
T. O'Sullivan

Continental Airlines should be held accountable for their lack of cooperationwith Law Enforcement Agencies, who in detail, described the dangers to other passengers on the same flight with a Non-U.S. citizen fleeing after committing a horrific torture/murder.

Every U.S. citizen should NOT fly Continental Airlines. If Continental's loyalty is to their almighty profits (their comments to Law Enforcemnt Agencies"Do you know how much it would cost in fuel to turn the plane around") and/orto criminals just because they are a paid customer then so be it. The insane, the mentally ill, terrorist and murderers can book flights on Continental Airlines - I have sent this story to thousands of e-mail receipents and would hope they pass this story along also.

Continental's priorities are with their 'costs' not to their passengers safety.

I will NEVER book another flight - in the U.S. or abroad with Continental Airlines.


T. O'Sullivan

Jason Joyner
Jason Joyner

The Phoenix P.D. officer I'm sure is a fine officer and I do see his point. But if the plane would to turn around it would send the wrong signal to the suspect. He might panic, take hostages or worse, try to bring down the plane. By landing without anything out of the norm the suspect was taken into custody with no more issues.

Phoenix Concert Tickets