Passenger Helps Save British Flight
Dec. 30, 2000
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Clarke Bynum awoke on a British Airways jumbo jet headed to Nairobi to the howl of engines and screams for help as the airliner took a nosedive.
Despite being sure he was about to die, he leaped from his business class seat and rushed into the cockpit to find a tall Kenyan man trying to crash the plane and the pilots trying in vain to stop him. Bynum, a former Clemson University basketball player, used his 6-foot-7-inch frame to grab the Kenyan and wrestle him to the floor.
``There were literally hundreds of people back home praying for us, knowing we were going on this (church) mission trip (to Uganda). There was this strength within that made me get up and go. It came from God,'' the 39-year-old South Carolina resident told The Associated Press on Saturday from his hotel in Nairobi.
There were also hundreds of people praying Friday on Flight 2069 from 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. ``I looked at Giff and said, `We're gonna die.' He said, `You're right.'
A 27-year-old Kenyan man, whom police and airline officials have described as deranged, had rushed into the cockpit, grabbed the controls and was pushing the Boeing 747-400 into a series of nosedives as he struggled with First Officer Phil Watson for control of the plane.
``We could hear hollering and banging (in the cockpit),'' Bynum said. ``I said to Giff, `We have to do something.' I looked out the window and could see we were going straight down. So I went to the cockpit.''
Bynum _ who was on the flight only because weather in London caused him to miss a connection to Entebbe, Uganda _ said his mind was whirling with what he might find: A hijacker with a gun or a knife. 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, about 5-foot-7, and he was trying to get him away.''
During the struggle for the flight controls, the plane was diving and climbing, only to dive again, Bynum and other passengers said.
Amid passengers' screams, the intruder bit the captain's ear and finger during the two-minute struggle, the airline said.
``Fortunately, I was able to get my arms around his (the Kenyan's) neck and shoulders and get him to the ground. By this time, a couple of others had come in and helped get him out,'' said Bynum, who has four children and lives in Sumter, S.C.
Weston then pulled the plane level. Later, the pilots told Bynum that the plane had plummeted 19,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
Zanne Augur, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, saw Bynum and another man rush to the cockpit. She had never met Bynum before.
``There was this awful lurching, it felt like turbulence, but with this horrible noise, it was like a roller coaster, when the pit of your stomach drops out,'' said the 32-year-old Augur, who was on her way to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
``The next thing you know bedlam breaks out. All we could see was 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. A breathless Capt. William Hagan came on the intercom and informed the passengers that ``a madman tried to take control of the plane and bring it down to commit a suicide,'' said Todd Engstrom, a 41-year-old doctor for Portland, Ore.
Bynum said the assailant did not respond to questions and kept mumbling about having a companion, even though he was traveling alone.
The plane landed safely two hours later in Nairobi at 10:10 a.m. local time. Four passengers and a female crew member sustained minor injuries, the airline said.
British Airways officials said Friday that the cockpit door is normally locked during take off and landing, but kept open during the flight.
Paul Parry, a spokesman for British Airways in London, said as part of the investigation the airline will be looking at ``whether our current procedures are adequate.''
The intruder, described as a suspected mental patient, was taken to Nairobi Hospital. Kenyan police spokesman Dola Indidis said the man should not be treated like a criminal.
Bynum said he was not physically hurt, but is still trying to come 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 to take it day by day.''