Nicole Louise Foran, a flight attendant from Eastern Passage, N.S., received one of Canada’s top awards Thursday for bravery, after she and her co-worker helped save passengers during a dramatic plane hijacking in Jamaica in 2009.

In April of that year, a gunman reportedly forced his way through security at the Montego Bay airport and boarded the plane carrying 159 passengers.

He then forced the pilot down a ramp and fired a shot.

"It just didn't seem like it was really happening," said Foran, a flight attendant on the CanJet Flight. "It was like a bad joke.

"It was a reign of terror that came across everybody on the plane at that moment."

Foran's co-worker, Carolina Aida Santizo Arriola of Mississauga, Ont., approached the hijacker.

Nicole Foran and Carolina Arriola

Nicole Louise Foran, left, urged a gunman to release passengers and later seized his weapon. She and her colleague Carolina Aida Santizo Arriola wait to receive decorations for their bravery. (CBC)

"We started talking about possibly releasing the passengers, because that's our main goal as flight attendants," said Arriola. "He asked for my wallet and he asked for the captain's money as well, so that's where we got the idea to ask for the money in exchange for passengers."

He agreed, and the scared passengers were able to get off the plane after dropping money into his bags.

According to the Governor General’s office, Foran and Arriola spent hours trying to calm the gunman down, but he threatened the crew and demanded they take off.

Foran was blindfolded, and the hijacker rested the gun on her shoulder. She said she feared the worst.

Then a Jamaican anti-terrorist squad stormed the plane.

"The garment that I had on my head actually fell down. When I looked over, I saw him standing there with the gun on me. That's when I took advantage of the situation," Foran said. 

"I somehow turned his hand in towards his body and I popped the gun out of his hand."

'Quite an honour'

Thursday, Foran was awarded the Star of Courage at a ceremony in Ottawa. Arriola received a Medal of Bravery. 

This is the first time the women have been publicly honoured for their role in stopping the hijacking. 

"I've had butterflies since I found out about the medal," said Foran. 


A Canjet Boeing 737 sits on the tarmac near the Jamaican resort of Montego Bay in 2009 while a gunman was holding six crew members hostage. (Patricia Roxborough/Jamaica Observer/Associated Press)

"It was quite an honour," said Arriola. "Words can't describe it, but we're glad everybody's home safe."

The Governor General's office said Foran and Arriola demonstrated great courage during a highly volatile situation.

Foran wasn't the only decorated Nova Scotian.

Master Seaman Jason Cecil Sparkes received the Star of Courage after he and his fellow firefighters jumped into the icy waters at Peggy’s Cove to rescue an RCMP constable.

They joined a total of eight Nova Scotians receiving bravery medals at the same ceremony.

The decorations for bravery were created in 1972 to recognize people who risked their lives to try to save or protect the lives of others.