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Passenger Storms Cockpit of BA Airliner, Tries to Crash Plane

Aired December 29, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: For two minutes that seemed like an eternity, passengers aboard a 747 jumbo jet believed they were about to die today. Most had no idea that a madman had grabbed the controls, trying to crash the jumbo jet. He nearly succeeded before the flight crew finally fought him off.

It happened on a British Airways flight en route from London to Nairobi. Passengers were tossed around the cabin as the plane was forced into two steep dives.

More on the story now from ITN reporter Victoria MacDonald.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTORIA MACDONALD, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): A passenger photograph of the man who sent a British Airways plummeting as he went berserk and attempted to seize the controls of Flight 2069 to Kenya. Safely on the ground now, it was during the struggle that the automatic pilot became disengaged, sending the jumbo into a series of dives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt like we were going to crash. Just, you know, you had no idea what was going to happen. The plane was like -- it fell really, like, quickly, and everyone's stuff went up in the air. People hit their heads on the ceiling, and it really did feel like that was going to be it.

MACDONALD: The 747 left Gatwick 11:00 last night. It was nearly six hours into its flight over Khartoum in the Sudan when the man burst into the cockpit.

During the two-minute struggle, the plane dived 10,000 feet before the pilot was able to bring it under control. It finally landed in Nairobi at 7:00 this morning.

The captain, William Hagan, was bitten on his ear and finger during the fight. Five of the 398 passengers and crew were later treated at Nairobi Hospital. British Airways says it has launched an immediate investigation.

A man believed to be a Kenyan national is tonight under arrest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: British Airways says the cockpit door normally is locked during takeoff and landing, but was kept open during this flight.

Todd Engstrom was a passenger aboard that British Airways flight when the attack took place. He describes what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD ENGSTROM, PASSENGER: The pilot came on, and he was out of breath. He could barely talk, and he said, "I'm here to tell you that a madman entered the cockpit and tried to take control of the plane to crash it with the intent of committing suicide for himself and the entire plane."

At that point -- he was having trouble talking, he was very out of breath. And he stated that they had the man under control and that he thought everything was OK at that point.

I heard later from some passengers in first class that that this gentlemen had wondered up -- it was a 747; he had gone to the upper level -- and was sauntering around, and then went into the cockpit and turned off the autopilot. This is second-hand, so I can't confirm this. But a passenger up in first class -- so he turned off the autopilot and grabbed the controls and pushed down, pushed the plane into a dive.

A struggle ensued and one of the flight attendants broke through the door, grabbed the gentleman, and some other passengers in first class were then able to get him and pull him out and restrain him and then put him in handcuffs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: British Airways says the flight's captain, 53-year-old William Hagan, is one of the airline's most experienced pilots, with 30 years of service.

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