It was a flight the passengers of the Nairobi-bound British Airways jumbo jet will never forget.
Suddenly, the Boeing 747-400 began to pitch in midair and started hurtling downward. What the passengers did not know was that a passenger had broken into the cockpit and was wrestling with the air crew, trying to seize the controls.
The man, described as tall, strong and hysterical by other passengers, was eventually wrestled down, and the plane carrying 379 passengers and 19 crew landed safely in Nairobi at 10:10 a.m. local time.
Four passengers and a female member of the cabin crew were taken to a Nairobi hospital, the airline said. British Airways Capt. William Hagan, 53, sustained bite wounds, the airline said.
“In the struggle the intruder bit my ear and finger but my first officer, Richard Webb, and I managed to get him out of the cockpit while my other first officer, Phil Watson, flew the aircraft. With the help of some passengers we managed to restrain the intruder,” Hagan said in an airline statement.
The man, whom Kenyan police identified only as a 27-year-old Kenyan, was arrested.
‘The Screaming of Grown Men’
A British Airways statement said the auto pilot became disengaged during the tussle in the cockpit.
Passengers onboard included British singer Bryan Ferry of “Slave to Love” fame and his wife, as well as Jemima Khan, the wife of former Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan; her mother Lady Annabel Goldsmith, the widow of billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith; and her brother Benjamin Goldsmith.
Passengers said the incident happened about two hours before landing, while many of them were asleep.
“Suddenly, the plane went into this violent, violent dive … like shuddering and went very, very steeply downwards and everyone was woken up by the screaming of grown men,” said Benjamin Goldsmith. “Then the plane just stopped diving and went into another dive at a really weird angle, going down to the left … then the engine cut out altogether.”
Katie Laybourne, 18, from Kent in southern England, said she was asleep when the drama began. When she woke up, there was chaos in the plane.
“We dropped and dropped. Some people hit their heads as they went up in the air,” she said.
“It was like a nightmare,” she said, adding that all the lights in the cabin went out and oxygen masks dropped down.
Passengers said that within minutes of the man being restrained, the pilot came out to say: “A very nasty man just tried to kill us all.”
A Fright for Ferry
Ferry, who was heading for a New Year holiday on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, Tanzania along with his wife Lucy Helmore and two of their sons said the family was sleeping when the plane started reeling and diving.
“I have done a lot of plane flights in my life but this is the most eventful,” said Ferry in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, where he arrived after taking a connecting flight from Nairobi.
“I was very frightened but I’m very relieved to be here on dry land.”
When asked if she thought they were about to die, Helmore simply said: “Yes.”
Bryan Ferry was the founder and front-man of British rock band Roxy Music, which produced a string of hit singles and albums in the 1970s.
He then made several solo albums but his career faded for a while before he returned last year with a critically acclaimed solo album As Time Goes By.
Man’s Motive Unclear Kenyan police declined to say what the attacker’s motive may have been.