N A I R O B I, Kenya, Dec. 30, 2000 -- Clarke Bynum awoke on a British Airwaysjumbo jet headed to Nairobi to the howl of engines and screams forhelp as the airliner took a nosedive.
Despite being sure he was about to die, he leaped from hisbusiness class seat and rushed into the cockpit to find a tallKenyan man trying to crash the plane and the pilots trying in vainto stop him. Bynum, a former Clemson University basketball player,used his 6-foot-7-inch frame to grab the Kenyan and wrestle him tothe floor.
“There were literally hundreds of people back home praying forus, knowing we were going on this [church] mission trip [toUganda]. There was this strength within that made me get up and go.It came from God,” the 39-year-old South Carolina resident toldThe Associated Press on Saturday from his hotel in Nairobi.
There were also hundreds of people praying Friday on Flight 2069from London to Nairobi — 379 passengers and 19 crew to be precise.
“As we awoke, the plane within seconds was in a violent drop,”said Bynum, who was traveling with his friend Gifford Shaw. “Ilooked at Giff and said, ‘We’re gonna die.’ He said, ‘You’reright.’
A 27-year-old Kenyan man, whom police and airline officials havedescribed as deranged, had rushed into the cockpit, grabbed thecontrols and was pushing the Boeing 747-400 into a series ofnosedives as he struggled with First Officer Phil Watson forcontrol of the plane.
“We could hear hollering and banging [in the cockpit],” Bynumsaid. “I said to Giff, ‘We have to do something.’ I looked out thewindow and could see we were going straight down. So I went to thecockpit.”
Chaos as Plane Plunged
Bynum — who was on the flight only because weather in Londoncaused him to miss a connection to Entebbe, Uganda — said his mindwas whirling with what he might find: A hijacker with a gun or aknife. Or maybe there was more than one attacker?
“As I opened the door, the assailant had the co-pilot,basically wrestling with the co-pilot,” the 210-pound Bynum said.“The pilot that ran in ahead of me was a smaller man, about5-foot-7, and he was trying to get him away.”
During the struggle for the flight controls, the plane wasdiving and climbing, only to dive again, Bynum and other passengerssaid.
Amid passengers’ screams, the intruder bit the captain’s ear andfinger during the two-minute struggle, the airline said.
“Fortunately, I was able to get my arms around his [theKenyan’s] neck and shoulders and get him to the ground. By thistime, a couple of others had come in and helped get him out,” saidBynum, who has four children and lives in Sumter, S.C.
Watson then pulled the plane level. Later, the pilots told Bynumthat the plane had plummeted 19,000 feet from its cruising altitudeof 30,000 feet.
Zanne Augur, a graduate student at the University of SouthCarolina, saw Bynum and another man rush to the cockpit. She hadnever met Bynum before.
‘It Was Like a Roller Coaster’“There was this awful lurching, it felt like turbulence, butwith this horrible noise, it was like a roller coaster, when thepit of your stomach drops out,” said the 32-year-old Augur, whowas on her way to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
“The next thing you know bedlam breaks out. All we could seewas the [intruder’s] feet as they came out of the door,” she said.“They got him out and held him down on the ground.”
As Bynum held the man, flight attendants handcuffed him. Abreathless Capt. William Hagan came on the intercom and informedthe passengers that “a madman tried to take control of the planeand bring it down to commit a suicide,” said Todd Engstrom, a41-year-old doctor for Portland, Ore.
Bynum said the assailant did not respond to questions and keptmumbling about having a companion, even though he was travelingalone.
The plane landed safely two hours later in Nairobi at 10:10 a.m.local time. Four passengers and a female crew member sustainedminor injuries, the airline said.
British Airways officials said Friday that the cockpit door isnormally locked during take off and landing, but kept open duringthe flight.
Paul Parry, a spokesman for British Airways in London, said aspart of the investigation the airline will be looking at “whetherour current procedures are adequate.”
The intruder, described as a suspected mental patient, was takento Nairobi Hospital. Kenyan police spokesman Dola Indidis said theman should not be treated like a criminal.
Bynum said he was not physically hurt, but is still trying tocome to grips with his experience.
“We’re in fact going to head on to Entebbe, Uganda later[Saturday],” Bynum said. “We’re going to go on and we’re going totake it day by day.”