She had the troubled look of someone who has had a narrow brush with death, still clearly haunted by the teenage terrorist she came practically face-to-face with in Mumbai, carrying a gun that "looked almost a bit too big for him." Kate Chaillat, 24, was among shocked and traumatized survivors of the Mumbai terror attacks who flew to France on Saturday aboard a special French government flight. Her father, Olivier, scooped her up into his arms at the airport.
The returnees displayed the trauma common to those who have been through a wartime situation: anxiety, trembling, nightmares and jumping at the slightest sounds, said Dr Didier Cremniter, a psychologist who flew out to the Indian city with French officials and came back on the government's Airbus A310 passenger plane. The survivors "were very traumatized by what they have been through, shocked, with feelings of great terror and great fear. Some were locked for hours, even one or two days, in a room, scared to go out, in hotels that were burning," Cremniter said. Chaillat and two friends were having a drink at the Leopold Cafe, a noisy and smoky old Mumbai institution, when the attackers struck Wednesday night. One friend was hit in the elbow, the other in the shoulder. Chaillat appeared unharmed.
"We were right in the crossfire," she said. They hid behind a stall. "I looked up and saw one of the shooters, and if he had turned around, we would have been the first ones in his eyesight, so we ran away," Chaillat said.
She described the gunman as a teenager carrying "a huge gun, an AK-47 or Kalashnikov or whatever you call it, I don't know. You see them in films all the time. It looked almost a bit too big for him."
The assailants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai from Wednesday night. The 60-hour rampage killed at least 195 people. The French jet evacuated 77 people of 11 nationalities. Red Cross personnel met them at Terminal 3 of Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris. Some had shiny foil thermal blankets draped over their shoulders. One man was pushed out in a wheelchair.
Many appeared still too shocked to speak about their experiences, waving away or quickly walking past a crowd of reporters with cameras and a forest of microphones. The flight carried 29 French, 17 Spanish and 19 Italians, as well as citizens of Germany, Poland, Kazakhstan, Greece, the Netherlands, Congo, Switzerland and Algeria, according to the French Foreign Ministry.
Ignasi Guardans Cambo, one of two European lawmakers who rode back aboard the flight, said he was fortunate to have left the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel for supper just six minutes before the assailants struck there. He hid overnight in a nearby restaurant. Another lawmaker in his delegation hid in a hotel kitchen for two hours and "stepped over bodies" to get out, Guardans said. Philippe Meyer, who was in Mumbai on a business trip, said he was trapped in his room at the upscale Oberoi hotel, which the gunmen also targeted, "hoping that they wouldn't get in." He got news updates by phone but had no food, he said.
Olivier Chaillat said that his daughter, a would-be filmmaker, had spent a month in India and shortly before the attacks had sent him an e-mail saying, "it's great. I love it."
But being caught up in the terror is "a life-changing thing," he fretted. "We hope she won't be scarred by it."