A passenger burst into the cockpit of a British Airways jet with 398 people aboard and grabbed the controls, sending the plane on a wild ride of dips and dives Friday before passengers and crew subdued him. Airline officials are calling the attack a suicide attempt.
The man, identified only as a 27-year-old Kenyan, forced the Boeing 747-400 into two violent nose dives, terrifying passengers on the flight from London to Nairobi and injuring five people, witnesses and airline officials said.Most of the 379 passengers aboard Flight 2069 were asleep or watching a movie when the man burst into the cockpit and grabbed the controls. Passengers screamed and the engines roared as the plane plummeted an estimated 10,000 feet, witnesses said.
``There was this awful lurching, it felt like turbulence, but with this horrible noise, it was like a roller coaster, when the pit of your stomach drops out,' said Zanne Augur, 32, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. ``But you could tell it wasn't turbulence, it was fierce movement.'
The cockpit intruder bit the captain's ear and finger before he was overpowered in a two-minute struggle with crew members and first class passengers, the airline said. Augur said two men rushed to help.
``The next thing you know bedlam breaks out. All we could see was the (intruder's) feet as they came out of the door,' Augur said. ``They got him out and held him down on the ground.'
One of the passengers who helped subdue the intruder was Clarke Bynum, 39, a former Clemson University basketball player from Sumter, S.C.
``I could hear the pilot screaming and you could hear a tussling match going on in there and he was hollering 'help,' ' Bynum told WBT Radio in Charlotte, N.C.
``I just grabbed his neck, shoulders, whatever I could get hold of and just joined in the fight,' Bynum said. ``I was able to pull him off and from there we got him to the ground and the pilot was able to get control of the plane.'
A breathless Capt. William Hagan announced over the intercom that ``a madman tried to take control of the plane and bring it down to commit a suicide,' said passenger Todd Engstrom, a 41-year-old doctor from Portland, Ore.
The crew handcuffed and bound the intruder, placed him in a seat and fastened his seat belt, Auger said. Still two hours short of Nairobi, control was restored as the plane flew over Sudan.
Kenyan police took the man into custody in Nairobi. Four passengers and a female crew member were taken to a hospital, British Airways said. The plane's 19-member crew was ``in shock,' a spokesman said. The captain remarked on the ordeal in a statement.
``In the struggle the intruder bit my ear and finger but my first officer, Richard Webb, and I managed to get him out of the cockpit while my other first officer, Phil Watson, flew the aircraft. With the help of some passengers we managed to restrain the intruder,' said Hagan, 53.
Passenger James Bruno Kalugira, 34, a truck loader who lives in Manchester, Conn., said he began to pray as the plane nose dived.
``People were yelling. Some luggage drooped from overhead cabins. The cabin crew were lying on the floor. I started to pray when I realized the situation was out of control,' said Kalugira, a Tanzanian who was returning home for the holidays.
Zoe McNaughton, 19, a student on vacation from Kent, England, said a flight attendant broke her ankle when a trolley fell on her.
``Everyone's stuff was flying everywhere. Our stuff went up in the air. People hit their heads on the ceiling. I was scared. I thought we were going to crash,' McNaughton said.
``Apparently the man had a suicide note, but I don't know any more about that,' she added.
The cockpit door normally is locked during takeoff and landing, British Airways said, but kept open during the flight. Paul Parry, a spokesman for British Airways in London, said the airline will investigate, and consider ``whether our current procedures are adequate.'
British Airways refused to release the passenger list or provide any other details about who was on the plane.
Kenyan police escorted the intruder to a Nairobi hospital. Police spokesman Kola Indidis said authorities were not treating the case as a hijacking.