Tag Archives: 26/11

The Officer Who Waged Valliant Battle Against Terrorists on 26/11

“Don’t come upstairs. I will handle this.” Those were Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s last words as he went up a flight of stairs of the Hotel Taj Palace on the fateful night of November 26th, 2008. He knew he was walking into danger but that didn’t bother him. He was there to save the day and that’s exactly what he did.

Sandeep Unnikrishnan (born in 1977) came from a Nair family residing in Bangalore, where they had moved from Cheruvannur, Kozhikode District, Kerala. He was the only son of retired ISRO officer K. Unnikrishnan and Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan. After graduating in 1995 in the ISC Science stream, he joined the National Defence Academy, Pune, Maharashtra in 1995, as that was his passion. He was a part of the Oscar Squadron (No. 4 Battalion) and a graduate of the 94th Course of NDA. He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts.

He was commissioned as a lieutenant to the 7th Battalion of the Bihar Regiment (Infantry) on 12 July 1999. After serving the Indian Army in different locations in Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan during counter insurgencies for two terms, he was selected to join the National Security Guards. On completion of training, he was assigned to the Special Action Group (SAG) of NSG on January 2007 and participated in various operations of the NSG. During the ‘Ghatak course’ (at the Commando Wing (Infantry School), Belgaum), the most difficult course of the Army, Unnikrishnan topped the course, earning an “Instructor Grading” and commendation. He opted for the NSG commando service which he joined on deputation in 2006.

During Operation Vijay in July 1999, he was regarded positively at the forward posts in the face of heavy artillery firing and small arms fire by Pakistan troops. On the evening of 31 December 1999, Unnikrishnan led a team of six soldiers and managed to establish a post 200 metres from the opposing side and under direct observation and fire.

On the night of 26 November 2008, several iconic buildings in South Mumbai were attacked by the terrorists. One of the buildings where hostages were held was the 100-year-old Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Major Unnikrishnan, who was then at the NSG hub in Manesar, Haryana had just learned about the death of the ATS Chief Hemant Karkare. Major Unnikrishnan, who had topped the Ghatak course, was already an instructor for the NSG. He volunteered for the Mumbai Operation (Operation Black Tornado) when the NSG men informally assembled at the NSG hub.

He entered the hotel in a group of 10 commandos and reached the sixth floor through the staircase. As the team descended the stairs, they suspected perpetrators on the third floor. A few women were held as hostages in a room which was locked from the inside. After breaking open the door, the round of fire by the perpetrators hit Commando Sunil Yadav, who was Unnikrishnan’s colleague. Unnikrishan engaged the perpetrators in a firefight. He arranged for Yadav’s evacuation and gave chase to those he had engaged in the firefight who, meanwhile, escaped to another floor of the hotel. He continued firing and charging at the terrorists as if nothing had happened. Unni finally managed to rescue all the 14 hostages trapped inside that wing of the hotel but the terrorists were escaping. Not worrying about his own safety, he charged upstairs after them. He managed to shoot down a couple more terrorists before he was shot from the back.One of the terrorists hid behind a statue and shot Unni from behind. He continued firing even as he fell, until he stopped breathing. His death did not go in vain as very soon, the SAG managed to eliminate all the terrorists hiding in the hotel. For his bravery, Unnikrishnan was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra in 2009. As a tribute to him, an important road in the city was named after him immediately after his death. In honour of his supreme sacrifice, a film was made titled ‘Major’.

The Commando who Fought Terrorists Despite 4 Bullet Wounds

When Marine Commando Praveen Kumar Teotia battled against terrorists during the 26/11 terror attack at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai in 2008, he knew that he was tackling some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. And he paid a high price for his bravery. Narrating the horrific incident, Praveen Kumar said:

“I was asked to take charge and was told that this was a golden chance for the MARCOS team to gun down terrorists who had ventured into our territory.” They took a blind entry into the Taj hotel where he witnessed blood spots and shattered glass everywhere in the lobby.

“I took my position near the heritage wing.I later entered the chamber hall on the second floor. I opened a door, it was pitch dark. My team then said to me that now we do not know how big is the room and how many people are there inside it. If we bring four more people then we could carry out the rescue operation in a much better manner. Since I had just entered the room, my eyes took a little bit of time to get used to the darkness. The terrorists, however, were already aware of every object in that room and they could see me standing easily. A while later, I saw a flash and I realised that I had been shot with an AK-47. I pressed the trigger and fired 3 to 4 rounds at them.”

Teotia fell to the ground and a stream of hot blood flowed down his neck. His entire team had fallen back and he was the only one left in that room. He regained his consciousness and tried to divert his pain. “I later started looking for a safe spot and I found out that there was a little space between the sofa and the wall where I could take cover. I lost a chunk of my ear due to the aim of firing but since I had taken cover, the firing that would take place from now on will all be random firing.”

“I threw a grenade at the place from where I was shot at and counted until ten. Two sound clicks had told me that I had thrown the grenade at the right place. However, the grenade which should have exploded at the count of seven didn’t.” The first team stationed outside the room thought that Teotia had been killed and they threw a tear gas shell inside the hall which landed just beside him. He started feeling suffocated and tears flowed down his cheeks. “I understood that now my chances of leaving this room alive are very slim.”

Teotia had two plans. PLAN A: Die sitting in the room from asphyxiation. PLAN B: Face the enemy! Teotia decided to face the enemy and exposed himself to the terrorists. In the firing that took place, he took four bullets. One went right through his chest breaking four ribs of his right lung. Another went through his bulletproof collar, one bullet cut through his bulletproof plate and the other ricocheted off a wall onto his heart. However, Teotia was successful in injuring one terrorist and keeping them engaged as his team got ready outside of the room. “I was successful in keeping the terrorists engaged as my team rescued 150 people from the adjoining hall. We also recovered a bag from the terrorists which had 500 AK-47 rounds, 16 hand grenades, dry fruits and their currency. I was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for my contribution to the nation.”

However, Teotia’s real battle had just started. Praveen was discharged from hospital after five surgeries. He was left with a gunshot wound to the right chest and a damaged left ear. As a result, his hearing was partially impaired. He is the only lung damage survivor in the world and his survival is considered a miracle for medical science. Even today, he has multiple bullet splinters of all sizes, from his chest to his liver. Praveen decided not to give up. He started running, swimming, cycling and went on to win the prestigious Ironman Triathlon Championship in April 2018 in South Africa, which involves 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bicycle ride and a 42.2km running. He completed the race in 14 hours, 19 minutes and 38 seconds. In 2017, Teotia conquered the Khardung La Challenge, which is a 72-km marathon in Ladakh and arguably one of the toughest marathons in the world.

A few months back, Praveen Kumar auctioned his gold medals that were won in Tata Mumbai marathon in order to raise money for the PM Cares relief fund.