Jamaican troops storm hijacked Canadian jet; free 6 crew members

Jamaican troops stormed a hijacked Canadian plane Monday after negotiations with a gunman broke down, taking a man into custody and rescuing six crew members.
A Boeing 737 belonging to CanJet sits on the tarmac near the Jamaican resort of Montego Bay on Monday while a gunman was holding six crew members hostage. (Patricia Roxborough/Jamaica Observer/Associated Press)
Jamaican troops stormed a hijacked Canadian plane Monday after negotiations with a gunman broke down, taking a man into custody and rescuing six crew members.

Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said all six Canadian crew members are safe and were taken to a local hospital for a medical checkup.

  People with family members aboard CanJet Flight 918 can call the airline toll free, 1-888-777-6429.

The 20-year-old man in police custody has been identified as Stephen Fray. Vaz called him a "troubled young man" who was upset about a failed relationship.

Vaz said members of the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group stormed CanJet Flight 918 after close to eight hours of negotiations between the gunman and family members broke down.

The hijacked flight left Halifax on Sunday bound for Montego Bay. It was to leave Jamaica later Sunday night and stop in Santa Clara, Cuba, before returning to Halifax with a load of returning vacationers. ((CBC))
"It has ended the best way it could, no fatalities, no injuries," Vaz said.

The incident started around 10 p.m. Sunday local time when a gunman reportedly forced his way through security and boarded the plane carrying 159 passengers about 40 minutes before it was due to depart from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

Passenger Suzanne Ferguson said the gunman was talking and shouting at passengers. She said the gunman said: "I mean business, this is a hijacking, sit down, nobody move."   

She said the passengers complied. "We were praying and crying a little bit, but everybody was quiet."

Ferguson said she thought about Sept. 11, 2001.

"I thought he wanted to crash the plane, like in New York," she said. "That's what we were all thinking."

Flight attendant held at gunpoint

Jacques Poulin said he and his parents were among the final people about to board the flight when the gunman rushed past them. Two other men who appeared to be undercover officers then pulled out their weapons, he said. 

Poulin said the gunman brandished his own weapon and yelled: "You can't stop me, I'm going to America."

"Nobody knew it was real. People thought it was fake. We literally just stood there," Poulin said.

The two other men with guns ran downstairs to alert police and airport officials, Poulin said. Heavily armed soldiers later arrived on the scene, he said.

The gunman held the passengers on board the plane for roughly 30 minutes until he agreed to let them and two crew members leave in exchange for their money. Poulin said passengers told him the gunman held a flight attendant at gunpoint and ordered them to drop their money and valuables into a bag as they left the plane.

Poulin said it appeared the gunman fired a shot at the co-pilot, who was on the loading ramp trying to talk to the agitated man. He said the shot might have grazed the co-pilot's face because a man came running out holding his face.

CanJet denied the report, saying none of the flight crew was injured.

Kent Woodside, vice-president and general manager of CanJet, said there were unconfirmed reports a shot was fired on the walkway connecting the plane to the terminal, but that no one was injured.

New plane on way to Jamaica

The hijacked flight left Halifax on Sunday at 7:15 p.m. local time 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.

Woodside said another CanJet plane will arrive in Jamaica by Monday afternoon to pick up the passengers and crew members, who are receiving medical checkups at a local hospital. A new crew and multiple sets of pilots will be on board, he said.

That flight will also stop in Santa Clara to pick up passengers waiting to return to Canada. Woodside didn't say how many passengers are stranded in Cuba, but he said they are waiting at their resorts. It's  unclear when the passengers will return to Canada.

Woodside praised the crew's professionalism.

"Their composure led to a successful outcome of this," he said. "They executed all of the steps as part of their security training to keep their passengers safe as well as themselves safe and secure."

Dawn Way, a Halifax-based flight attendant for WestJet Airlines, said she knows the captain and one of the flight attendants on the flight.

"I knew they would act in a very professional manner. The captain is very competent and the flight attendant, she's very level-headed, so I knew that they would be able to handle the situation," said Way.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in Jamaica for a one-day visit, offered his plane to help transport some passengers back to Canada, but his spokesman, Kory Teneycke, said the airline has said it is able to handle the transport itself.

Gunman angrily waved weapon

Lisa Boudreau said her friend, who was on the plane, told her that some people had tried to escape when the gunman boarded.

"The gunman got aggravated, when people tried to escape, so he got up and he went up and down the aisle, seat to seat, putting the gun in everyone’s face," she said.

A St. George, N.B., woman whose son was on the flight says a flight attendant helped negotiate the release of the passengers.

Cheryl Spear said her son Jamie called her early Monday morning when he was freed, telling her the gunman angrily threatened passengers and waved his weapon around.

"The stewardess from the back seemed to be able to calm him and tried to … reason with him into letting them off if they left their money and wallets there," she said. "And that seemed to have worked for him and that seemed to be the way they were able to get off of the plane."

Vaz said Jamaican government officials will help sort out any necessary paperwork for passengers who had to leave their passports on the plane, as well as supply passengers with any necessary medication.

"I must tell you, all the passengers … really took it in good stead. And they were very anxious to just get to a place where they could rest because it was obviously very traumatic," said Vaz.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding expressed relief that the standoff was over, apologized to Canadian passengers for their ordeal and promised a complete and thorough investigation into what he called an obvious security breakdown.

"I'm very relieved, extremely relieved, that it's over and nobody has been hurt," Golding said. Arrangements to provide accommodations for the passengers have been made and they've also been offered funds to compensate for the money they surrendered to their captor.

"There was quite clearly a breach of security at the airport, and I've asked for an investigation to be done immediately and a report to be made."

CanJet is owned by Halifax-based IMP Group Ltd., according to CanJet's website. The plane involved in the hostage-taking is a Boeing 737-800 capable of carrying 189 people.

With files from The Canadian Press