Calgary couple trapped in hotel room during Mumbai ordeal

A Calgary couple said they are thankful to be alive after spending nearly 36 hours trapped in a Mumbai hotel room waiting for the siege to end.
Donna Simonson, pictured with a grandchild in an undated photo, hid with her husband Vern in the Trident-Oberoi hotel. ((Courtesy Simonson family))

A Calgary couple said they are thankful to be alive after spending nearly 36 hours trapped in a Mumbai hotel room waiting for the siege to end.

Vern and Donna Simonson were staying on the 20th floor in the Trident wing of the Trident-Oberoi hotel during a series of attacks in India's economic capital that left more than 150 dead.

The couple is now in a hotel near the airport waiting for a flight to London. Vern Simonson said he was feeling "very thankful" that they were in their hotel room when the attacks began.

"If you had been in the other hotel, or if you'd been out on the streets, goodness knows what would have happened," he said.

Couple hid in hotel room

The attacks were launched on Wednesday night, as militants armed with rifles and grenades attacked the sprawling city of about 13 million people.

Vern Simonson said he and his wife were able to talk to family at home in Calgary during the ordeal. ((Courtesy Simonson family))

Gunmen struck a total of 10 sites, including a packed train station, a restaurant popular with tourists, a Jewish community centre, hospitals, the Trident-Oberoi luxury hotel and the Taj Mahal Palace &Towers hotel. The previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility in e-mails to several media outlets.

The Calgary couple were in their room packing on the last night of a tour when they heard two large explosions. Shortly afterward an announcement came over the hotel loudspeaker advising guests to stay in their rooms.

"So essentially that's what we did for the next 32 to 36 hours," Simonson said.

They watched the news on TV until it was cut off and were able to make long distance calls home. The couple could also hear gunfire.

"You are sort of sitting there and you don't know what's going on," he said.

Escorted to safety

Eventually hotel employees came around with a basket of fruit and asked Simsonson if he needed anything.

"We said we sort of want to get out and he said: 'To be very honest with you, you are safer where you are. There is still a lot of shooting going on in the streets' … We just stayed in our room. And then about around 11, 12 o'clock the commandos came up. I heard a noise in the hallway again and went out. There were eight guys and they were very efficient. They just got us out, bam."

Simonson said the lobby was smeared with blood and windows were blown out.

"You really didn't have much time to look around, these guys got you out quickly," he said.

He said they were met by an RCMP officer and a representatives from the Canadian consulate.

Canadian officials in Mumbai told CBC News that they can account for 20 Canadians who were staying at either the Trident-Oberoi or the Taj Mahal Palace, two of the sites targeted in the attacks. Officials said that 17 of the Canadians are safe, while one died and two were injured.