Ja airport standoff ends

Cayman officials monitor situation closely

A gunman forced his way though airport security and hijacked a Canadian jet near Montego Bay, holding six crew members hostage for eight hours before police and soldiers stormed the aircraft on Monday and captured the man.

Tarmac at the airport

Soldiers stand near the hijacked Canjet 737 as it sits on the tarmac at the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica Monday April 20, 2009. Six crew members on board a Canadian airliner bound for Cuba from Halifax were free and their captor in custody Monday after a lone gunman with “mental issues” forced his way through security and stormed the jet as it was preparing to depart a Jamaican airport. Photo: AP

Nobody was killed or injured in the ordeal, which ended with a raid near daylight after talks broke down with a 20-year-old Jamaican hijacker described as “mentally challenged.”

“We were getting nowhere with the negotiations,” Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz told The Associated Press. “Police and military went on the plane and captured him.”

The suspect identified as Stephen Fray was in custody. Vaz said he is a “mentally challenged” 20-year-old man from the northwestern resort city of Montego Bay. He did not detail the man’s mental condition but said he was apparently upset over a failed relationship.

Cayman Islands Aviation officials were monitoring the situation Monday, but said it had no effect on Cayman Airways scheduled flights to Jamaica.

‘Flights are operating in and out of Jamaica business as usual,’ said Cayman Airways Corporate Communications Manager Olivia Scott-Ramirez. ‘We didn’t receive any notification from the airport in Jamaica about flight cancellations.’

Civil Aviation Authority Director Richard Smith told the Caymanian Compass that his staff would continue to monitor the situation and had a keen interest in determining what happened.

‘How did someone get on board with a weapon?’ Mr. Smith said. ‘I’m sure the Jamaican authorities would share that with us.’

Mr. Smith said such information could give Cayman’s operation valuable lessons on airport security.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority officials said they were also monitoring the situation.

The hostage crisis that began around 10:20 p.m. Sunday and ended near 6:40 a.m., when members of the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group stormed the aircraft’s cabin, according to a police statement.

The young man boarded CanJet Airlines Flight 918 in Montego Bay and demanded to be flown to Cuba, Vaz told The Associated Press.

A total of 159 passengers and eight crew members were aboard the Boeing 737 at the time, according to Jamaican police. Police said all the passengers and two crew members were released after a short time.

There were unconfirmed reports that a shot was fired outside the aircraft, CanJet Vice President Kent Woodside said in a news conference Monday. He said the passengers also were robbed.

Alphonse Gosselin, whose 30-year-old son Christian was on the plane, said his son told him that the hijacker pointed a gun at him and other passengers. Christian and his girlfriend were among a group of 22 family members traveling to Cuba for a wedding.

“The first thing that he said to his girlfriend was, ‘Be calm. Don’t say a word.’ He said take your passport and your credit card and put it in your back pocket. He said we’ll give him the money,” Gosselin said in an interview from Tracadie Sheila, New Brunswick.

All the passengers were Canadian, Woodside said. The plane had arrived from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was scheduled to stop in Santa Clara, Cuba, before returning to Canada.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding addressed all the passengers after they were debriefed by police, according to the police statement.

The passengers were taken to a hotel, Vaz said. CanJet planned to fly another aircraft to Montego Bay to return the passengers to Canada, Woodside said.

“It’s a most unfortunate situation, but I can say the passengers are happy to be alive,” Vaz said. “This whole experience has been very traumatic for them.”

CanJet Airlines said 174 passengers were expected on the flight, but some apparently were not aboard by the time of the hijacking.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in Jamaica for a one-day visit, was monitoring developments, his office told The Canadian Press.

The charter airline is owned by Halifax-based IMP Group Ltd., according to CanJet’s Web site.

Jamaican National Security Minister Dwight Nelson said the plane has been isolated and the airport is expected to reopen Monday morning.

Earlier this year, Grand Cayman’s airport saw a much less serious breach of security, but one that concerned aviation officials nonetheless.

In January, Cayman Islands firefighters detained a man who climbed over the security fence at Owen Roberts International Airport and entered the airport apron area.

The 34-year-old man admitted in court to having mental problems and was deported after being convicted of criminal trespass.

Caymanian Compass reporter Brent Fuller contributed to this story.