Friday, February 16, 2007

This is your captain. Get ready to jump on the hijacker when we land

This is your captain. Get ready to jump on the hijacker when we land

Confronted by a lone gunman in the cockpit of his airliner, Captain Ahmedou Lemine's thoughts immediately turned to the horror of 9/11.

He recalled how the heroic folk on Flight 93 prevented two hijackers crashing their plane into the White House, and determined to enlist the help of his own passengers.

Having established that the gunman did not speak French, unlike most of those on board the Air Mauritania flight, he made an announcement in French over the public address system.

He told the 71 passengers and eight crew that the plane had been hijacked but advised them not to panic because he had a plan.

Then, shortly before landing at Gran Canaria, with the gunman having joined the passengers in the main cabin, he revealed that he planned to brake suddenly as soon as he touched down and then accelerate hard, hoping to knock the hijacker off his feet.

At that point, he said, women and children should move to the back of the plane while the men jumped on the gunman.

It worked perfectly. The man was standing in the middle aisle when the pilot carried out his manoeuvre, and he fell to the floor, dropping one of his two 7mm pistols.

Flight attendants then threw boiling water from a coffee machine in his face and at his chest, and ten people jumped on the man and beat him.

About 20 of those on board were slightly injured when the plane braked suddenly, but otherwise everyone on board emerged unscathed while the hijacker was arrested. Mauritania, in West Africa, is a former French colony and while the official language is Arabic, most have some knowledge of French.

The 32-year-old gunman, Mohamed Abderraman, struck soon after the Boeing 737 took off from the capital Nouakchott bound for the Canaries on Thursday.

Although he wanted to seek political asylum in France, the crew told him there was not enough fuel for the journey so he agreed to land in Gran Canaria as planned.

On September 11, 2001, all those on board United Airlines Flight 93 were killed when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers tackled the terrorists.

It was the fourth jet to be hijacked that day and the ordeal of the passengers and crew became the subject of the award-winning film, Flight 93.

Passengers on board the Air Mauritania jet said that despite the captain's calmness, they were terrified.

"We thought it was people from Al Qaeda who were going to cut our throats," said Aicha Mint Sidi, 45.

Dahi Ould Ali, 52, added: "I trembled during and after the hijacking. I thought the plane was going to blow up any minute, either in mid-air or on landing."

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