Friday, February 16, 2007

Air Mauritania hijacking: The rest of the story

You'd think that a hijacker demanding to be taken to France so that he could seek political asylum there might know how to speak French. This one didn't, and that turned out to be his undoing.

More details have emerged about the Air Mauritania flight that was hijacked yesterday. As I mentioned in my previous post, an early Reuters report about the hijacking said that the hijacker was overpowered after he was thrown off balance during the aircraft's landing at Gando Airport on Gran Canaria. Today the rest of the story was told.

When the Air Mauritania pilot in command of the aircraft spoke with the gunman during the hijacking, he realized that the man did not understand French. The pilot cleverly used this to his advantage.

A plan was hatched on the flight deck to intentionally slam on the brakes when the aircraft touched down, and then accelerate abruptly to throw the hijacker off balance. The pilot, identified as Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine, used the plane's PA system to communicate his plan to the passengers and cabin crew so that they could prepare.

Here's how an Associated Press item in the UK newspaper, The Independent, told the tale:
The idea was to catch the hijacker off balance, and have crew members and men sitting in the front rows of the plane jump on him, the Spanish official said.

The pilot warned women and children to move to the back rows of the plane in preparation for the subterfuge, the official said.

It worked. As the plane landed on Gran Canaria, the man was standing in the middle aisle when the pilot carried out his maneuver, and he fell to the floor, dropping one of his two 7mm pistols. Flight attendants then threw boiling water in his face and at his chest, and some 10 people jumped on the man and beat him, the Spanish official said.
Another version of the story, published by the Times Online, says that the boiling water was thrown on the hijacker's chest and groin, rather than his face, and that six men, including a Mauritanian mayor, jumped the gunman.

Let's not quibble over fine details. Congratulations to Captain Lemine for coming up with a brilliant plan, and to the crew and passengers for carrying it out so well.

But I still want to know how Mohamed Abderraman, the hijacker, managed to board that flight in Nouakchott with two handguns.