Snake on a Plane

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

"Then you have the issue of passengers who might need to be re-accommodated or rerouted, as I'm sure many people were making onward connections from Delhi. And that's best-case, with the plane returning to Newark. I have heard that long-haul diversions to more remote locations — northern Canada, Russia — can run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Night had fallen in Phoenix on March 30. Personnel from the Medical Examiner's Office finally had lifted Navi Kaur's body out of the tub and taken it to the morgue.

Former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo: "This was a very bad, very dangerous call."
AP/Wide World
Former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo: "This was a very bad, very dangerous call."

Her autopsy would show that she died of severe blunt-force trauma to her face and body. Kaur's assailant had beaten her, strangled her, tried to suffocate her with a pillow and stuck her in the tub (it's uncertain, according to the postmortem, if she was dead or alive at that point).

Though Canadian police were ready to arrest Raju if Flight 82's pilot landed there, Palombo says his ACTIC contact told him that Continental had decided not to land in Canada and the plane already was eastbound across the Atlantic.

"So," the sergeant says, "we're thinking that with the total lack of cooperation from Continental that this operation was going to be a total loss. We started to transition to, 'What do we do if this plane gets all the way to India?'"

But the cops had one last chance at nabbing Grewal short of India.

Mike Palombo says he learned from ACTIC "that the FBI was coordinating with the Air Force to land the plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. I'm thinking that we're on really good grounds, because the Air Force base is like a consulate, like American soil, and we wouldn't have to worry about extradition. But Continental just wouldn't land."

FBI spokeswoman McCarley reiterates that, "to my knowledge," the agency wasn't involved in this part of the operation.

By now, Interpol, a sprawling multinational agency similar in concept (but far larger) than ACTIC, was involved in the chase and had fashioned an international arrest murder warrant against Raju Grewal.

Palombo says the FBI generated a plan to take Grewal into custody as he exited the plane in New Delhi and then hold him in an airport concourse before he cleared customs and officially entered India. (On this point, the Phoenix sergeant and the FBI spokeswoman finally agree.)

The idea was to put Grewal back on the next plane to the States with an FBI agent and a State Department representative as escorts.

But none of those plans panned out, as Indian authorities immediately took their allegedly murderous native son into custody.

The machinations involving Grewal's possible extradition are in their earliest stages, and attorneys familiar with the process say years may pass before Grewal is returned to Maricopa County for trial.

Navi Kaur's murder made bigger news in India and Canada than in Phoenix, where it occurred.

"The Mysterious Phone Call That Changed A Life," was the headline of a story in Toronto's Globe and Mail, referring to Kaur's pronouncement to Grewal's husband shortly before her murder about wanting a divorce. (It could have been titled "The Phone Call that Ended A Life.")

The Hindustan Times wrote that Raju Grewal had told Indian interrogators he had been planning to commit suicide after visiting his parents back home.

"He told us that he loved his wife very much," the paper quoted a senior police investigator as saying, "[but] on the fateful day, he killed her in a fit of rage. He slapped her so many times that she lost consciousness and, after that, he strangled her."

The investigator said Grewal had described how the ceiling fan collapsed during the suicide attempt at Redwood Lane. The suspect also claimed that he had been the victim of domestic violence, not vice versa.

None of the news accounts referred to the troubling behind-the-scenes clash between law enforcement and Continental Airlines, though Continental's abiding corporate concern became evident to irate Phoenix police a few days after Grewal's arrest.

Detective Davis contacted a Continental ticket agent at Sky Harbor to get some routine biographical information for his report on the murder case. The agent had sold Grewal the one-way ticket from Phoenix to Newark a few hours after Navi Kaur's murder.

Wrote Davis, "Before I could say anything to [the agent], she told me she would love to cooperate in this investigation, but she was told by her employer not to talk to me about it. She said she did not want to lose her job."

That anecdote speaks volumes to aviation expert Rusty Aimer, the former Continental pilot.

"This incident has all kinds of big-picture implications for the public," Aimer says. "Most important is that an airline and a pilot did not respond in a timely manner or at all to a legitimate request from law enforcement. I'd love to know exactly what Continental told the pilot about the fugitive on board and about the serious concerns that the police had with the guy."

New Times asked Continental spokeswoman Julie King for a response to that, among other queries. She politely declined to elaborate on her brief, earlier e-mail.

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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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