SCMP Thursday, April 26, 2001


Flight crew stick together to pull through hostage crisis

JO BOWMAN

The Cathay Pacific crew held hostage by gunmen in Istanbul for 12 hours said yesterday they got through the crisis by sticking together and keeping cool heads.
Speaking from another hotel in the city after being moved from the Swissotel where the drama took place, they said they drew strength from one another and put their training in hijackings to use.
Two Cathay pilots and 10 flight attendants were among 120 hostages held by pro-Chechen gunmen armed with automatic rifles and shotguns late on Sunday. No one was injured in the incident, which ended after 12 hours when the hostage-takers surrendered, releasing all their captives.
Airline doctors and counsellors yesterday began "debriefing" the crew, as bosses considered sending a plane to Turkey to bring them home today.
"We're all alright. We're doing okay," chief purser Mel Said said before meeting the Cathay relief team. Ms Said was believed to be one of the crew members who spoke to Cathay's general manager of inflight services, Quince Chong Wai-yan, who oversees the airline's flight attendants.
"They're fine," Ms Chong said. "They said nobody was harmed. They stayed together, supporting each other, and it was just a bit tiring. Some hadn't had much to drink so they felt a bit dry, but that was all."
Ms Chong said the crew's security training definitely helped them. "They've learned to stay calm and just keep quiet when you're under terrorist attack," she said, adding that while the airline staff were perhaps better prepared for the ordeal than other hotel guests, "this was an unpleasant experience and they'll get some leave when they get back".
A Cathay spokesman said last night the crew had been flown to Frankfurt, where they would transfer to a scheduled Cathay flight back to Hong Kong. Flight CX288 was due to land at 7.05am this morning. The spokesman refused to say which carrier the crew flew with to Germany but confirmed it was not Cathay.
The crew was originally due to fly back to Hong Kong on flight CX302, which leaves Istanbul tonight (Hong Kong time) and lands at lunchtime tomorrow.
A Cathay spokeswoman said the original flight would leave as scheduled, but with a replacement crew, which flew to Istanbul yesterday.
There were reports on Monday that a further five Hong Kong residents were in the hotel at the time of the siege, but the Security Bureau said yesterday it was unaware of anyone other than airline staff being involved.