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Author Topic: CanJet crew helped commandos sneak into cockpit, surprise hijacker  (Read 4206 times)

Offline Bulldog

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From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

April 21, 2009 at 7:14 PM EDT

KINGSTON, JAMAICA and TORONTO — Eight hours into the hijacking of CanJet Flight 918, a cloudy day dawned on Montego Bay's airport as a deranged man, who had held the crew at gunpoint overnight, turned again to the locked cockpit.

He pounded on the door to demand that the Boeing 737, sitting on the tarmac, finally take off.

This time, the door opened but instead of a crew member, he was confronted by two commandos who subdued him.

In the preceding hour, the Jamaican special forces had climbed through a window into the cockpit and removed the co-pilot.

New details of the hostage-taking emerged Tuesday, revealing that a crew member secretly kept in contact with the authorities, helping them determine when to send in the rescue team.

The takedown also shone a spotlight on the elite Canadian Special Operations Regiment, which had trained the Jamaican special forces – a rare occasion since CSOR's creation in 2006, when its fingerprints had been officially acknowledged.

During the night from Sunday to Monday, a Jamaican national held six Canadian crew members at the point of a revolver.

Flight 918 from Halifax was on a stopover at Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport before heading to Cuba.

Witnesses had previously described the harrowing 45 minutes before the man released 159 passengers and two of the eight crew members.

According to witnesses, the pilot, Captain James Murphy of Halifax, was in the passenger cabin when the gunman entered. The suspect apparently didn't know that only the co-pilot, Glenn Johnson of Montreal, remained in the cockpit.

“Based on his behaviour, we assumed that he thought that there were members of the flight crew inside the cockpit, because he continued to knock on the door, demanding that the door be opened so that the aircraft would take off,” Jamaica's national security minister, Dwight Nelson, said Tuesday.

Negotiators tried to have relatives speak to the gunman, identified as Stephen Fray, but he turned down their overtures. By 5 a.m., less than an hour before sunrise, he was knocking on the cockpit door again.

At that point, the authorities decided on a “tactical resolution,” hostage-taking jargon for last-resort use of force.

“We had a last attempt to have one of his relatives speak to him, which he rejected. And then we got a communication from one of the crew inside the aircraft, that it had been indicated to them that he had become increasingly agitated,” Mr. Nelson said.

He refused to divulge how authorities spoke to the crew, but said it was without the gunman's knowledge.

Some time between 5 a.m. and 6:40 a.m., eight members of the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group went under the plane and two of them entered the cockpit.

Mr. Nelson would not specify how the two got through the window. However, according to an aviation expert, the Boeing 737 has a mechanism to pop open the side windows of its cockpit. There is also a rope ladder that would have allowed the co-pilot to climb out, said Yvan-Miville Des Chênes.

Around 6:40 a.m., when the man knocked again, a soldier inside opened the door.

“That was when the operation was carried out to disarm him, overpower him and free the crew,” Mr. Nelson said.

The successful rescue delighted members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, garrisoned at CFB Petawawa, Ont.

“To see that, in some way, even if it's remote, that we had some hand in what happened, it makes us very proud,” said Captain Aaron Scherle.

The Jamaican military and police didn't until recently have specialized squads to handle hostage-takings or terrorist incidents.

Since last summer, small teams of CSOR instructors led by senior non-commissioned officers have coached their Jamaican counterparts in close-quarter combat, small arms firing and first-aid techniques, Capt. Scherle said.

One training team is currently in Jamaica, but took no part in the rescue operation.

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