Secret bank accounts, seized chickens, missed connections: What Egyptians worried about on hijacked plane

Ahram Online , Wednesday 30 Mar 2016

Egyptian passenger Abdallah El-Ashmawy recounts some of his fellow passenger's reactions on board the hijacked EgyptAir plane, saying the comments 'made my day'

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A-320, which was diverted to Cyprus, leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a six-hour standoff on the tarmac at Larnaca airport's largely disused old terminal on March 29, 2016. (AFP)

An Egyptian who was on board EgyptAir flight 181 when it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on Tuesday recounted some peculiar reactions from his fellow passengers.

Abdallah El-Ashmawy, a doctor and assistant lecturer at the University of Alexandria, described the "painful experience" as "a day I will never forget."

Seif El-Din Mustafa, one of the Egyptian passengers, hijacked the plane en route from Alexandria to Cairo, brandishing what appeared to be an explosive belt before forcing the pilot to divert the flight to Cyprus. Cypriot police later said the belt was a fake.

Despite the ordeal, however, El-Ashmawy still found humour in some of the reactions of his countrymen on the plane, including hopeless distress calls, a man revealing a secret bank account to his wife and another complaining about his frozen chicken that was seized at customs.

"Most of the people managed to stay calm, but as usual passengers on board made my day," he said.

"A lovely Egyptian chap decided to call all his family and friends one by one as we were about to land in Cyprus, and in a very loud voice said ‘I'm kidnapped Mohamed, I'm kidnapped Fatma,’ etc."

"Another funny [incident involved a] husband calling his wife to tell her about some money he was hiding in a bank account, and the funniest part was his wife forgetting about the hijacking and asking him to repeat the bank’s name and account number."

El-Ashmawy also recounted how another passenger was outraged that airport security had confiscated his frozen chicken.

"You are letting an explosive belt pass and do not want me to take my chicken," the man shouted, according to El-Ashmawy.

"Another lovely guy was sleeping and woke up to find that we were landing in Cyprus, to which he responded 'why Cyprus? I will miss my connection',” El-Ashmawy added.

Alhamdu Lellah who saved and protected us through this ordeal. Thank you all for your calls and messages.I arrived...

Posted by AbdAllah El Ashmawy on Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Despite the light spirit of the note, El-Ashmawy said that the EgyptAir crew was "really professional," commending their continuous attempts to "calm all the passengers."

"The lady flight attendants managed to keep a smile all throughout the flight," he recalls. "I could see one of them crying [in her seat at the front], but once she stood up again she kept her smile just to calm people."

The hijacker confirmed to police upon his arrest in Cyprus that he commandeered the flight in order to see his family in that country, according to media reports.

Other reports suggest that the man, who Egyptian and Cypriot authorities believe may be mentally ill, was calling for the release of prisoners in Egypt.  

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