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On board the hijacked EgyptAir plane: SA man tells his story

04 April 2016 - 18:12 By Pericles Anetos

Archbishop Damaskinos laughed along with the rest of the world when he learnt that it was a lovesick divorcé who hijacked an EgyptAir airplane last week‚ but there was nothing to laugh about when he was living through the drama. Damaskinos‚ the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Johannesburg and Pretoria‚ and his colleague Bishop Nicodemus Boulaksis was on the early-morning flight from Alexandria to Cairo en route back to South Africa on March 29.What was supposed to be a quick 30-minute flight turned into an ordeal lasting two hours and 50 minutes for the two men.Speaking about the experience on Monday‚ Damaskinos realised something was amiss about 15 minutes after take-off.He saw flight attendants and one of the pilots moving up and down the aisle of the plane.“I just imagined that someone towards the back of the plane had fainted or someone had heart problems‚” Damaskinos said.“Then they told us it is a hijacking.”The archbishop said the passengers remained relatively calm. But he could hear sounds of anguish when a passenger asked about the number of hijackers and the crew told them it was only one man but he was wearing a suicide belt.He and Boulaksis never saw the hijacker.It emerged later that the bomb was fake. The alleged hijacker‚ Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa‚ claimed that he acted out of desperation to see his ex-wife and children‚ who live in Cyprus.Damaskinos said a crew member told the passengers that the hijacker asked that they go to Larnaca in Cyprus.“The flight attendant said‚ ‘Thank God… it was a good sign‚ compared to taking us to Syria or Somalia.”He said a flight attendant came to collect everyone’s passports and he became worried that the hijacker would not free them because he held a diplomatic passport and Boulaksis a Greek passport.With the plane parked on the tarmac in Larnaca‚ the hijacker decided to release all the Egyptians on board but hold the Europeans.Damaskinos said the flight crew later told him that the man somehow decided to let them go too.“Our good luck‚ our prayers‚ the prayers of others … I don’t know what it was. When he saw one of our passports was from the EU and the other was diplomatic and a crew member said they were Greek‚ he told her that we would leave with the Egyptian passengers.”They were searched immediately upon leaving the plane‚ because the authorities did not know whether the hijacker was acting alone‚ Damaskinos said.He said he has no idea how he walked down the stairs from the plane. They were taken to a hall in the airport‚ which had been evacuated‚ and allowed to call a family member to tell them that they were safe but nothing more.Hours later‚ they were told the rest of the hostages had been released.He recalled how a fellow passenger told him that he as a Christian and she as a Muslim had prayed to their respective gods and she did not know which god had helped them but at least they were free.Mostafa‚ an Egyptian‚ was apprehended about six hours after hijacking the plane and is still in custody in Cyprus. Cypriot police said he faced possible charges of hijacking‚ kidnapping‚ reckless and threatening behaviour‚ and breaches of the anti-terror law.Amr Al-Gamal‚ the pilot on the flight‚ said on Sunday that Mostafa did not enter the cockpit‚ AFP reported."Immediately after the hijacking‚ I asked the security officer to stay at the door of the cockpit and not leave‚" the pilot told reporters in a meeting organised by Egyptian authorities...

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