Snake on a Plane

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

Sankranthi recalled that around 10:30 the night before, her husband had mentioned seeing Grewal leaving the neighborhood in a taxi. That had surprised her because Kaur hadn't told her Grewal was in town.

Phoenix police arrived at Redwood Lane about 30 minutes after the call, around 12:30 p.m.

Officer Kwan Jin found Navi Kaur's lifeless body in the tub. He and another officer called their supervisor and checked the rest of the home to make sure no one else was there. Then they closed the front door behind them and waited for homicide detectives and other officers to show up.

Raju Grewal and Navi Kaur were married in 2005 but spent little time together as man and wife.
AP/Wide World
Raju Grewal and Navi Kaur were married in 2005 but spent little time together as man and wife.
Navi Kaur was murdered inside her home in suburban Ahwatukee.
Michael D. Ratcliff
Navi Kaur was murdered inside her home in suburban Ahwatukee.

By law, no one would be allowed back inside the home, now a crime scene, until homicide detectives secured a search warrant from a judge, a process that would take about five hours.

By then, Grewal already was sitting in the Newark airport, eager to hightail it out of the States that evening on Continental Airlines Flight 82.

It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to know that Raju Grewal was the prime suspect, the only suspect in his wife's murder.

When the homicide investigation began in earnest shortly before 3 p.m., Sergeant Palombo asked his detectives to investigate their best lead: Grewal's U.S. Airways itinerary.

Someone soon contacted Phoenix Detective Eric Davis, who works at Sky Harbor for the city airport's Drug Enforcement Bureau. Davis' first job was to contact U.S. Airways to find out if Raju Grewal was scheduled to fly somewhere from Phoenix or if he already had flown out.

A U.S. Airways official said Grewal wasn't scheduled to fly anywhere on that airline, though the official did confirm that the suspect had flown from Vancouver to Phoenix on U.S. Airways a day earlier.

Palombo assigned Detective Lois Weiss to look into Grewal's recent credit-card use. She learned that the suspect had bought a one-way ticket the previous night for a Continental flight from Phoenix to Newark.

It was now nearing 6 p.m. in Phoenix.

Working his phone out of Sky Harbor, Detective Davis tried to learn from Continental officials about Raju Grewal's whereabouts. But reaching anyone in command at the airline was time-consuming.

Finally, about 6:30 p.m., a supervisor at Continental confirmed to Davis that Grewal had boarded Flight 1034 early that morning. The plane landed at 3 p.m. in Newark, which was noon in Phoenix.

The supervisor told Davis that Grewal then had bought a ticket for Continental Flight 82 from Newark to New Delhi, scheduled for an 8:45 p.m. (5:45 p.m. in Phoenix) departure. He also said the plane had taken off on time, about 45 minutes earlier.

Davis immediately called Palombo back at the crime scene.

The careful sergeant asked a detective to check the Continental Web site to ensure that Flight 82 truly was airborne.

Turns out, it wasn't.

The pilot had returned to the gate at the last minute to drop off luggage, which delayed the departure to New Delhi by about half an hour.

"We tell Continental that their computer is showing that the plane is still on the ground," Palombo says. "Time is moving. We're trying to get answers, but we're not getting them."

The sergeant called Port Authority police at the Newark airport for assistance: "I tell them, `I need to track down what gate this plane is at. We have a murderer onboard and we need to get him off before they leave."

About the same time, Detective Davis finally got through to Continental Airlines operations and spoke to a supervisor known to police as "Raul." (New Times was unable to obtain the supervisor's full name.)

A few days later, Davis would write in his police report, "[Raul] said the plane took off about two minutes ago. I asked him if it could be ordered to return to the airport. He said he would let the corporate offices in Houston, Texas, know about this. He said this matter was out of his control other than to notify them.

"I asked Raul if he could communicate to the plane's captain that there is a man on board who is homicidal and suicidal so the captain would be aware of the potential danger this man could pose to the people on board. He said he had no way to directly communicate with the plane, but some kind of communication could possibly be made with the plane from the corporate office if it was deemed appropriate. He said he thought that since [Grewal] made the flight, he probably thinks he is home free.

"Raul speculated that it might be better to not notify the crew, because they might then act differently around Grewal, tipping him off that they knew what he had done. I told him I thought the captain would want to know about this man on his plane."

Davis called Sergeant Palombo as soon as he hung up with Raul. Palombo says he tried to use his powers of persuasion on Raul three times over the next several minutes.

"I told him, 'Look, I can't be any more crystal clear to you. This isn't a guy on a watch list. This is a known lunatic. This guy has admitted killing his wife and he's attempted suicide at the scene twice. And he's on your plane. You need to get it down!' He kept saying that that kind of decision was above him, and he'd pass it up the chain of command. Then in another conversation, he told me that the captain had received a 'non-verbal communication' advising him of the situation. That was it."

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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.

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