Jet hijack pilot full of praise for 'perfect' British rescue

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The Independent Online
The pilot of the hijacked Sudan Airways jet spoke for the first time yesterday of the moment his aircraft was taken and of the "perfection" of the British operation to free it.

Captain Abdel Hamid Hidirbi, 51, said he was staggered by the professionalism of police and aviation officials on the ground, adding: "I thought perfection only existed in books."

Capt Hidirbi's comments were echoed by the Prime Minister, John Major, who sent his congratulations to Essex police for the way they handled the situation after the plane touched down at Stansted airport early on Tuesday.

Capt Hidirbi, a British-trained pilot with Sudan Airways since 1969, was speaking after almost 24 hours of police interviews during which he told detectives about every detail of the 20-hour hijack ordeal which ended shortly after 1pm on Tuesday.

He appeared relaxed yesterday alongside Detective Chief Inspector Win Bernard, the police negotiator with whom he had liaised for nine and a half hours by radio while the 184 hostages were allowed to leave the aircraft.

Hostages and crew of the Airbus 310 have been forbidden by police from discussing details of the hijack for fear of prejudicing future criminal proceedings against the seven Iraqi hijackers, but Capt Hidirbi described how the incident started and how passengers reacted.

"At first I heard a loud noise - shouting and high voices from the back of the plane and later I was advised as to what it was," he said. "I ordered my crew and the passengers to sit down. All your training tells you to remain calm, cool down the situation and gain the trust of the hijackers to gain time and get their confidence.

"I did not have time to fear for myself. I had enough to worry about over the number of sick people on the plane who were on their way to Amman for medical treatment, and for the children and women on board. But I am not a hero. I'm just an ordinary pilot."

Asked about the role played by Ch Insp Bernard, the captain said: "He is a credit to your country and the aviation business, well experienced and well trained."

In return, Ch Insp Bernard said Capt Hidirbi was a "very brave man" who had quickly turned into a member of the negotiating team.

The men who took control of SUD 150 were still in police custody yesterday, although an extension to a detention order granted by magistrates on Wednesday was due to run out at midnight last night. Police said yesterday that no decision had been made over whether to charge the men or apply for another extension.

Six Iraqi women and two children, relatives of the hijackers, were released from police custody and handed over to Immigration Department officials, although the Home Office would not say yesterday whether any had applied for political asylum.

A number of Jordanian hostages, numbering between 15 and 29, according to police, flew out of Heathrow on Wednesday. The rest of the hostages, Sudanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Saudis, were due to leave Stansted last night on board the hijacked jet, with Capt Hidirbi at the controls.