Airline hijacker captured after standoff in Jamaica

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica: Seven hours after hijacking a Canada-bound plane on the tarmac of Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport, a gunman released his hostages and surrendered to police.

None of the eight crew members or the 159 passengers on board the CanJet plane at the time of the hijacking was hurt, but some of them reported that money had been taken from them.

A government statement confirmed that around 6:40 a.m. Monday, members of the Jamaica Defense Force’s Counter Terrorism Operations Group entered the cabin of the aircraft, disarmed the hijacker and rescued the hostages on board. The hijacker was identified as Stephen Fray, of Montego Bay.

“The hijacker is in police custody and is scheduled to be interviewed while crew members are being debriefed and will be provided with counseling and medical services,” the release said.

The man’s family and friends assisted soldiers and police in negotiating the release of the hostages.

Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Information, Daryl Vaz, had earlier said the man, in his 20s, has “mental challenges”. The motive for his actions has not been determined.

Fray forced his way through security checkpoints at the airport at approximately 10:20 Sunday night and boarded CanJet flight number 918 destined for Halifax. The chartered flight had a scheduled stop in Santa Clara, Cuba.

He initially held everyone on board, but released all the passengers and two crew members shortly after. The released passengers were debriefed by police and taken to a hotel.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding went to the scene in the early hours of Monday morning after hearing news of the hijacking.

Vice President and General Manager of CanJet Airlines, Kent Woodside, said the airline was relieved that the authorities were able to bring the situation under control without anyone being hurt.

“Obviously, we were extremely concerned for the well-being of everyone involved in this incident. Our priority is now to provide comfort and support to the passengers and crew who were involved in this ordeal. The crew who were being held are receiving medical attention as a precaution,” he said in a statement issued after the hijacker was taken into custody.

“The security and safety of our passengers and crew are our top priority. We will continue to do all we can to help the authorities who are investigating the apparent breach of security at the airport that led to this incident.”

“We would also like to thank the security authorities in Jamaica and Canada, including the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). And we’re extremely grateful for the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office,” Woodside said.

Vaz said the government would reimburse passengers who lost money during the ordeal.

“We have taken down their names, the amount of monies that they lost and the government of Jamaica is committed to make sure that they leave here with everything that they came with,” he said, describing the situation as “most unfortunate”.

The incident occurred as Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, began his visit to the nation. Harper arrived Sunday and addressed a special joint sitting of Parliament Monday. He also held talks with Golding on a range of issues, including the global economic crisis, the impending negotiations toward a free trade agreement between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Canada, and Canada’s assistance in the implementation of the Justice Reform Program.

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