Flight Engineer Hamdoon to YT: “I feel that the hijacker deserves more punishment for the fear, panic he created among the passengers and for tarnishing the image of the whole country.” [Archives:2001/12/Interview]

March 19 2001

Hamdoon Ali Muhasen Kalalah, born in 1961, is working as an airborne engineer in Yemenia Airlines. He received his education in Sana’a and completed his higher studies in the USA. On coming back in 1988, he began work for Yemenia Airlines as an airborne engineer . Mr. Hamdoon was in the Yemenia aircraft (727) hijacked to Djibouti. He was one of the team who managed to overpower the hijacker and release the passengers safely. Yemen Times met with him and filed the following interview:
Q: Will you please explain how the incident took place?
A: That event was the first ever to take place in the history of Yemeni Airlines. The interesting thing is that I was not among the crew of the plane, but joined it at the last minute.
When the plane was about to take off, the hijacker started making some noise inside the airplane. Five minutes after taking off, we heard some screaming. It was the air hostess Saeedah al-Shuhrani. The hijacker pushed her and headed towards the cockpit. He broke into the cockpit with his small pistol in his hand. We thought it was a pen.
He asked the captain Mr. Amer to change the direction of the plane to Saddam International Airport in Baghdad. When the air hostess moved to put his bag in the shelf of the airplane he shouted that it was full of explosives controlled by a remote in his pocket. We were shocked and could not move at all. The captain of the airplane tried to convince him that the fuel was not enough to fly to Baghdad. So he ordered us to head for Muscat Airport. We again stressed that the fuel was not enough.
After ten minutes of negotiations he agreed to our proposal to go to Djibouti Airport. Upon arrival, the crew comprising Saeedah al-Shuhrani, Raja’a Idris, Sana’a Unes, Omar Jalal, Faiz al-Bashali, with the help of the engineers Najib Saeed Kaid and Atiq Sabr, started helping the passengers get off board through the rear doors and emergency exits. When the hijacker found that all the passengers had been evacuated he was in a panic. He shouted: “Captain, all the passengers have got off the plane.” I asked him what he wanted from the passengers and said “We are with you and the airplane is here. We will go together to Saddam Airport.” He had to accept.
We convinced him that an engineer should get off board to speed up fueling. Engineer Najib Saeed Kaid went off board. We hatched a plan to control him. I started arguing with my colleague Adli Albaghdadi so as to distract and confuse the hijacker. I asked Adli to make us some breakfast. We wanted to get the hijacker off the cockpit to the fuselage. When Adli left the cockpit, the hijacker moved a little back. This was enough for me to open the extinguisher directly at his face. He fired a bullet which hurt my friend in his arm as he was pulling him to the ground. At the end he was totally controlled. We handed him to the Djibouti police.
Q: When the hijacker broke into the cockpit did you lose control of things?
A: The man was very much confused. He was shaking like a leaf out of fear. I felt that he was not fully prepared for the plan. This actually encouraged me a lot to carry out our plan to control him.
Q: How did he manage to get onto the plane with the pistol? Don’t you think this may lead to more similar incidents in the future?
A: I do not know how he managed to hide the pistol. The persons in charge of baggage inspection can give you a better answer. I don’t think this will lead to more such incidents. This is the first incident in Yemenia’s history.
Q: Do you think sentencing the hijacker to 15 years imprisonment is fair in proportion to the crime?
A: Well, I cannot judge on this for I am neither a lawyer nor a judge who is fully acquainted with all the rules. Personally speaking, I feel that he deserves more for the fear and panic he created among the passengers and for tarnishing the image of the whole country.
Q: Since the incident, are there any improvements or new security measures introduced in Sana’a International Airport?
A: The new machinery and the improvements in the professionalism of the employees at the airport make me say that strict measures have been introduced.
Q: You have been honored by the president and the chairman of the company. What does that mean to you?
A: I am tremendously pleased to be honored by the President, who made us feel proud of what we have done. The honor bestowed by the chairman of the company, Captain Abdul Khalik al-Kadi is actually a great morale booster which will make us do our utmost to serve our country.

Q: Have you thought of giving up your post in the Yemenia after the incident?
A: Never. On the contrary. I am getting ready to travel abroad so as to continue my higher studies in flying.