Passengers freed after Jamaica hijacking return to Halifax

Some of the passengers freed after the hijacking of a CanJet plane in Jamaica returned to Halifax early Tuesday, describing their terror when a lone gunman forced his way onto the plane at Montego Bay.
Tamara Fralick, centre, and friend Bryanna Shaddock, right, are greeted by Tamara's mother Tracy Fralick as they arrive at the airport in Halifax early Tuesday. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

Some of the passengers freed after the hijacking of a CanJet plane in Jamaica returned to Halifax early Tuesday, describing their terror when a lone gunman forced his way onto the plane at Montego Bay.

"It was terrible," said Brenda Grenier, who was among the 40 passengers who arrived at Halifax Stanfield International Airport at 12:20 a.m. on Tuesday. "It was horrifying. The man had a gun and wanted to kill people."

Grenier cried and held her daughter, who had accompanied her on the trip, as she recounted the event. She said the armed man wanted to go to the United States and didn't realize the plane was going to Canada.

Fellow passenger Phoebe Timmins-Porter, who was on the plane with her husband, said the thought running through her mind was simply "we're going to die." She said she got through it by praying, thinking about her children and family in West Bay, N.S., and holding onto her husband.

'Just don't cry'

Leanne Shaddock of Hatchett Lake, N.S., had finished a weeklong vacation with her three daughters — Rayne, 8, Brooke, 9, and Bryanna, 13 — and one of their young friends.

Shaddock told CBC News the incident started about five minutes after they got on the plane and they initially thought it was some sort of drill.

But the flight attendant quickly began moving the passengers seated at the front of the plane to different seats and took the family to the back, she said.

The children were huddled off to the side and on the floor out of the sight of the gunman, Shaddock said.

"We just kept saying to them, 'Just don't cry, take a deep breath, it's all going to be over soon.' "

The four children were huddling on the floor of the plane when a shot rang out up front.

'It went crazy'

"He was getting mad at the pilot because he wouldn't co-operate," explained Bryanna. "He was like, 'I want to go to America now.' "

At the sound of the gun, the girl said, "It went crazy."

"Everybody started to cry. Everybody was fine before that, but then, like, we knew he was serious and not joking around. I wasn't crying or anything. I didn't know what to do."

Shaddock said she was worried that the gunman might come to the back of the plane and see the children, the only kids on board. She thought he might decide to keep them on board even if he allowed the other passengers to go.

Shaddock was impressed by the way the kids dealt with the ordeal.

Brenda Bond, a passenger on the hijacked CanJet flight: 'It was frightening, but everyone kept their cool.' ((CBC))

"They are so strong and I didn't know. They were amazing — the way they handled it," she said. "They weren't screeching or hollering."

Passenger Brenda Bond said: "It was frightening, but everyone kept their cool. And the Canadian staff was absolutely amazing."

CanJet had representatives at the airport to offer assistance to passengers as they arrived. The RCMP has offered counselling.

All 159 passengers and two crew members were freed less than an hour into the hijacking of CanJet Flight 918, which never left the tarmac at Sangstar International Airport near the resort city of Montego Bay.

Witnesses credited a flight attendant for persuading the gunman — who had forced his way through security and boarded the plane at about 10:30 p.m. local time on Sunday — to accept cash and valuables in exchange for their freedom.

Believe he was high on drugs

The remaining six crew members were rescued about seven hours later on Monday morning, when Jamaican troops stormed the Boeing 737 after negotiations with the armed man broke down.

Stephen Fray, 21, who has been described as a "troubled young man" and mentally ill, is in police custody. Both Grenier and Timmins-Porter said they believe he was on high on drugs.

Despite witness reports that one shot was fired at the beginning of the ordeal, officials have not confirmed that detail. CanJet said none of the flight crew was injured.

The hijacked flight left Halifax 7:15 p.m. local time  on Sunday for Montego Bay. It was to leave Jamaica later Sunday night and stop in Santa Clara, Cuba, where passengers Christian Gosselin, girlfriend Nancy Beattie and about two dozen other New Brunswickers were to attend a wedding, his father Alphonse Gosselin told CBC News.

Many of the passengers from the hijacking remained in Jamaica for their vacations or continued on to resorts in Cuba.

The crew from the hijacked plane also returned but on a separate flight, CanJet officials said.

"They were positive but understandably very tired and emotional," the company said of the crew in a release.

The crew members met with RCMP on Tuesday to give statements and to be debriefed.

The crew may be reinterviewed later in the week after they've had more time to absorb what happened, said RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallagher.

Information collected by the RCMP is being shared with Jamaican officials and Transport Canada, Gallagher said.

CanJet said in a release that the crew will not be providing comment to the media on Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press