Mayday (2013) s03e13 Episode Script

Ocean Landing

The Comoros Islands, a remote holiday playground in the Indian Ocean.
Days here are spent playing in the sand and splashing in the gentle waves.
But in late 1996, the peace of the Comoros Islands is shattered.
A plane is speeding towards the beach.
It's a passenger jet, hundreds of miles off course.
There has been no explosion, no mechanical failure - yet the jet is falling out of the sky towards the ocean.
SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 is on a routine trip from Addis Ababa to the Ivory Coast.
The captain is Leul Abate.
At 42, he is an extremely experienced pilot.
7,300 kilograms.
Centre tank is zero.
He has more than 11,000 hours of flying time to his credit.
Total fuel is 14,500 kilograms.
Check.
Ethiopian Flight 961 will stop briefly in Nairobi, Brazzaville and Lagos before it reaches its final destination of Abidjan.
The plane has just enough fuel for the first leg of the trip.
It will get more in Nairobi.
Less fuel on board makes the plane lighter, increasing efficiency.
Captain Abate and his copilot, Yonas Merkuria, expect their day's work will be over in about 12 hours when they land in the Ivory Coast.
All clear.
The day was a bright day, clear skies - everything was fine.
The passengers on board 961 are a mix of Ethiopians and travellers from other countries, flying for business and pleasure.
Michael Oddenyo, seated in economy class, is a Kenyan businessman on his way home to Nairobi.
I spent the whole of Friday trying to get on that flight, calling the airline every hour or so.
I remember, Friday night, mid- about 11:00, I called them again and they said, "Look, just come to the airport "and we'll see if we can find a seat for you.
" So, I sometimes feel I put myself on that aircraft.
Near the front of the plane, American Frank "Pancho" Huddle is also getting settled in.
He's the United States Consul-General in Bombay.
My wife and myself decided to take a trip to Africa and go on safari.
I wanted a daytime flight because it was safer, so I picked Ethiopian Airlines, which had a good reputation.
It was one of the two carriers in all of Africa that was FAA-certified.
A few rows ahead of them is Mo Amin, a legendary news cameraman and journalist.
He's a well known personality, especially in Ethiopia.
In 1984, Amin captured images which shocked the world.
His pictures of the Ethiopian famine prompted an outpouring of aid which helped pull Ethiopia back from the brink of starvation.
While filming in Ethiopia, he had even lost an arm in a bomb blast.
Today, he's returning home to Nairobi after a brief business trip.
Not only is Captain Abate used to this route, but he's also very comfortable with this aircraft.
V1.
He and other members of Ethiopian Airlines call it "Zulu".
As the plane climbs into the sky, three Ethiopian men have settled into their seats.
All are in their mid-20s.
The plane is bound for Nairobi, but it's not where these passengers are planning to go.
ABATE: We took off.
Everything was fine.
The cabin crew called us.
She asked if we wanted to have coffee or tea, whatever.
Yeah, thank you.
Coffee? Make it two.
The plane is flying at 12,000 metres when the three young Ethiopians make their move.
ODDENYO: I heard a noise at the back - somebody shouting - and when I looked back, he was running up towards the front, pushing the air hostesses away.
HUDDLE: There were two guys zipping down the plane, yelling something incomprehensible.
Then a guy sort of gliding down silently came right after them, and I said, "Uh-oh, it's a hijacking because they're coordinated.
" ODDENYO: Initially we, sort of, just looked at each other and wondered what was going on.
People didn't say much immediately.
There was some kind of noise in the cabin, and I heard the cockpit door slamming open, just - BANG! Three men barged through the door and armed themselves with the cockpit's fire-racks and fire extinguisher.
Get out.
Get out! There was, you know, a little confusion up in the front as if they were, you know, attacking the pilots.
ABATE: There were three guys.
They were shouting.
They came straight to the copilot, and they started hitting him.
Get up.
There's 11 of us.
If you don't do what we say, we'll blow this plane out of the sky.
I told them, "Okay, don't hurt him.
I'll do whatever you want.
" Passengers near the front of the plane are concerned but have no idea what's going on.
Captain Leul Abate is facing the hijackers alone.
Unlike most pilots, though, Abate has some experience in a situation like this.
He has been hijacked twice before.
The first hijack was a local flight, and then two hijackers who had a hand grenade, uh, came into the cockpit, and they forced us to fly to Nairobi.
Abate's second hijacking was just a few years later, when he was piloting a 737.
The hijackers again held the hostess hostage, and they came into the cockpit.
They told me it was a hijack, and they wanted to fly to Sweden.
No-one had been hurt or killed in either of those incidents.
In both cases, Captain Abate had landed safely.
But the turbulent political situation in the region means hijacking is an unpleasant reality.
From 1990 to 1996, 10 Ethiopian Airlines planes had been hijacked.
This time, though, the hijackers make a very unusual request.
Fly to Australia.
What? Fly us to Australia.
We don't have enough fuel to get to Australia.
It's too far.
Abate is shocked.
No-one else on the plane knows what the hijackers are demanding.
If he does what they say, his plane will crash in the ocean.
If he doesn't, they say they'll blow it out of the sky.
An Ethiopian Airlines jet has been hijacked in the skies above Africa.
The hijackers want to be flown to Australia.
It's a 10-hour flight, but the plane took off with just 3.
5 hours of fuel.
The passengers have no idea what the hijackers are demanding.
I want to talk to the passengers.
ODDENYO: After about half an hour, the hijackers came on the public address system, and they made an announcement that they have taken over the plane.
And if anybody tried anything, they had one bomb and they were going to blow it up.
The announcement is made in Amharic, French and English.
The policy at that time was we should follow the hijackers' instructions.
That was before 9/11.
And every action taken is to be taken on ground, not in flight.
Pilots are trained to fly, not to fight.
Captain Abate decides to get help.
I have to call air traffic control.
Why? Because they'll be asking why we are changing direction.
Tell them you've been hijacked, and tell them where we're going.
Addis area control, this is Ethiopian Airlines.
Since the plane is still over Ethiopia, Abate contacts Addis Ababa area control.
Addis, Ethiopia 961.
There are passengers in the cockpit.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Say again, 961.
Addis, 961.
We have been hijacked.
We have orders to divert to Australia.
961, Australia.
Understood.
Confirm your souls on board.
Souls on board, 175.
961, 175 souls on board.
As the aircraft flies south, Addis Ababa passes the captain over to Nairobi air traffic control.
ETH, Nairobi Centre.
Confirm you are going to land in Australia.
Gentlemen, we can't make Australia.
We only have two hours of fuel.
We can't make it to Australia.
We will make a water landing.
ETH 961, confirm you can't divert to Mombassa.
They refuse to land anywhere other than Australia, so we have no choice .
.
except when we finish our fuel, we will land on water.
But with two hours of fuel, you can't make Australia.
Why don't you land Mombassa? Okay, just a minute.
Abate connects the air traffic control to the cockpit speakers.
Okay, I just wanted our hijackers to hear what you are communicating.
Okay.
And if you have anything to say, go ahead and tell them.
Okay.
I am advising you that with two hours of fuel, you will be unable to reach your destination, and probably you would have to land on the water.
The solution is for you to land in Mombassa.
Go ahead.
The hijackers of ETH 961, if you have copied, go ahead.
Waiting to talk, stand by.
Do you want to talk to them? Okay, they say they don't want to talk.
They are not willing to negotiate on any terms.
Confirm they are ready to land in the ocean and drown.
Do you have another alternate aerodrome? Please advise.
I have no alternate aerodrome.
Sir, I'm in a very tight corner.
Enough talk.
We will NOT negotiate! That's bullshit! That's bullshit! They said, "Follow our instruction.
"If you don't, we will blow the aeroplane up.
" That's it.
Ethiopian 961, Nairobi control, do you read? There would be no further communications between the aircraft and air traffic control.
Abate decides to defy the hijackers.
Without their knowledge he continues south, instead of east towards Australia.
I started following the African coastline.
In case anything happens, we'll have a place to ditch or land safely because most of the cities are by the coastline.
But with a glance out of the window the hijackers suddenly realise they've been tricked.
I still see land.
Turn the plane.
Now Captain Abate has no choice.
He turns his plane east, over the open ocean.
As the ocean unfolds below him, the captain begins forming another plan.
I have no charts nearby because it was on the copilot's side.
So, I had a small atlas, so I took that out - last thing I saw the Comoros Islands.
Nestled between the African continent and the island of Madagascar is their only hope - the Comoros Islands .
.
a remote holiday playground in the Indian Ocean.
I had no idea what that place was.
I never heard of the word Comoros before - I just headed towards it.
It was a guess.
The Comoros Islands are his last chance to land safely.
We sat, we just sat and sat for hours.
I tried to read the newspaper but couldn't concentrate on it because I was nervous.
I wondered how much extra fuel we had because the rule of thumb is you have enough for the alternative airport and they're supposed to have an extra 45 minutes of fuel beyond that.
So, roughly three hours or so of fuel they had to have.
And so after we'd flown three hours, I began to get nervous.
ALARM SOUNDS Suddenly an alarm breaks the tense silence in the cockpit.
It's a warning that the plane has less than 30 minutes of fuel left.
I need to tell the passengers.
There's no need.
You know what I'm going to tell them? It's out of my control.
The aircraft is going to crash.
- Do you want to die? - We'll die anyway! So? Shall we kill you? No more talking.
Don't worry.
I have the axe.
Please? At least let us attempt a controlled landing.
I will die along with him.
I will show him that I have guts.
It's finished.
We will die together.
With almost no fuel, Abate decides to make his stand.
We came over the island.
By then fuel was running out.
I decided, "No, we should not go any further than this one.
" And I started circling that area.
But how can he convince the hijackers to let him land? He'll have to find an answer soon, or Flight 961 will crash into the sea.
For three hours Captain Leul Abate has been fighting a lonely battle.
Hijackers have taken over his passenger jet.
They want to be flown to Australia, but Abate doesn't have enough fuel.
Warning alarms are already beginning to sound.
An airport on the Comoros Islands is within reach, but the hijackers refuse to negotiate and won't let him land.
At stake, the lives of all 175 people on board.
They took whiskey from the duty-free.
They wanted me to drink, actually, but I refused.
ALARM SOUNDS Once again alarms sound.
One engine is now completely out of fuel.
It's shutting down.
Captain Abate is quickly running out of time.
MAN: With the aeroplane being at 39,000 feet in cruise flight, the aeroplane is not going to run out of gas with each engine simultaneously.
There will probably be a bit of a lag, which in this case there was.
The right engine stopped functioning first.
ODDENYO: First thing I noticed the engine sounded different .
.
because there was only one engine running.
It had a much deeper sound.
Abate follows standard emergency procedures.
He starts the APU, or auxiliary power unit.
It's a generator that can supply extra electrical power when one engine is lost.
Most of the passengers don't know how serious the situation is .
.
but Captain Abate knows the plane is in grave danger.
I lost the engine at 39,000 feet.
I cannot keep on flying at 39,000 feet with engine failure.
With thrust from only one engine, the aircraft immediately slows down.
At a lower speed the wings don't provide as much lift.
Abate must descend to an altitude where the air is thicker.
Denser air means the wings can provide enough lift to keep the aircraft flying level.
The plane continues to descend.
Even with only one engine and despite the drop in altitude, the tiny Comoros Islands are still within reach of the crippled airliner.
There is an airport at the capital, Moroni.
If he can convince the hijackers, Abate could land there.
It's gone down 1,000.
When the engine stops, it descends.
It will descend whether you like it or not.
Alone in the cockpit, Captain Abate takes a dangerous chance.
He explains the situation to everyone on board.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot.
We have run out of fuel, and we are losing an engine at this time.
We are going to make a crash-landing.
When the pilot came onto the public address system and said that he had no alternative but to crash-land that is when it actually dawned on us and we realised that this was a life-and-death situation.
Captain Abate also makes a desperate call for help.
We have already lost one of the engines.
He wants the passengers to overpower the hijackers so he can land the plane.
I ask all passengers to react to the hijackers.
Thank you.
Captain Abate knows the call for help is a huge risk.
Even though I was expecting some kind of movement in the cabin, but I had to do my job.
I was doing what I had to do - you know, keep the aeroplane in control, fly it.
While Captain Abate waits for action, the passengers are move confused than ever.
He said, "React against the hijackers," which is an odd phraseology.
Nobody reacted.
I think part of it was the way he said it was not, sort of, a normal way in English that you would ask someone to take on the hijackers.
But he also was trying to do it enough so they wouldn't notice what he was saying.
At least one of the passengers does understand.
As a news cameraman, Mo Amin has never shied away from a challenge.
Amin makes his way to the economy section in the rear of the plane.
Here is a man who had spent 20 or 30 years in some of the most difficult and dangerous war zones of the world who'd been beaten up, who'd been shot at, who'd been jailed.
He was a kind of alpha male, if you know what I mean.
He could talk anybody into anything.
He made it like he was going to the bathroom, and then he came back, and he started talking to people three or four seats ahead of me, and from his gestures and actions, he was trying to get us to stand up against the hijackers.
With your help we can take them.
There is only three of them.
Come on.
Come on! Not knowing what would happen, not knowing what these people were capable of doing and of course the fact that they had indicated that they would blow up the plane if anybody tried anything.
VAN ZANDT: Always, always have to measure, "Am I going to make the situation better, "or am I going to make it worse?" Who's ready to take the chance that your precipitous action against the hijacker might not cause him to set that explosive device off and take the life of everybody on board the plane? In the end, the passengers choose not to act.
Captain Abate is still alone against the hijackers.
In the cockpit the hijackers try to take control in a vain attempt to keep the plane in the air.
It's descending.
Don't worry.
I'm not the one who's doing that.
Inadvertently one of the hijackers disconnects the autopilot.
The plane swerves wildly.
SCREAMS Don't move.
Listen.
I am not applying any motion.
The aircraft is doing it by itself.
He was trying to fly the aeroplane, he was trying to disconnect the autopilot, all sorts of things.
It's all over.
We will drop in the ocean.
31? Abate makes another attempt to explain the desperate situation to the hijackers.
Perhaps they will finally allow him to land at the nearby airport.
This is zero, and this is coming to zero.
I prayed to God.
I wish I wasn't in this situation.
Now I am in it, but help me to save these people.
Ladies and gentlemen please sit down and fasten your seatbelts.
Do not panic.
I'm starting to say, "Oh, I love you dear.
It's been a good ride.
" My wife is sort of unsentimental - psychiatric nurse - and she tells me, "Get up, stand up.
Get our bag down from the overhead.
"Pull out your extra glasses, put them in your pocket "and get some food for me, and I want this, this and this food.
" She had to carefully pick things that wouldn't make her thirsty.
She said there's not going to be any meal service once we hit the water.
ALARM SOUNDS Finally the plane runs out of fuel.
So, you're killing everyone? Sit down.
From now on, you can't do anything to me.
What?! From now on, you can do nothing to me! SECOND ENGINE WHIRRS TO A STOP ODDENYO: The other engine stopped, and it sort of went quiet.
Then it started to get hot within the cabin.
The light started to flicker .
.
and graduallyit went out.
That's it.
Both engines are out.
That's it.
Is this what you wanted? This $40 million aircraft has become a 100 tonne glider.
The plane is out of fuel, and Abate is out of options.
A crash landing in the sea is all but inevitable.
Both engines are out.
That's it.
Is this what you wanted? Almost four hours after take-off, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 has finally run out of fuel.
Hijackers have taken over the plane and have forced the captain to fly over the ocean.
ALARM SOUNDS The loss of engine power starts rippling through the plane.
As well as driving the jet through the skies, the engines supply power to most of the electrical and hydraulic systems.
Without the engines, the computer screens, automatic pilot and many other functions of the plane stop working.
Although the engines are now useless, a low-tech backup system allows the pilot to retain some control.
The ram air turbine, or RAT, is the last line of defence when all the engines fail.
A small trap door automatically opens, and the turbine, a small propeller, pops out.
The rushing air turns the propeller like a windmill, generating just enough electrical power for basic flight instruments and controls, including airspeed.
Since it was power off - that means there was no electrical or hydraulic power - the controls were heavy.
The turbine doesn't provide enough power for Abate to operate the flaps which would help slow the plane down for landing.
Wherever he lands, Captain Abate will have to do so at a dangerously high speed.
Power of landing, power of ditching, nobody's trained in the world.
Flying over the water you need accurate instruments.
I didn't have any of the instruments.
Without engines a large passenger jet can glide 18.
5km for every 1,000m of altitude it loses.
At 6,400m, the Ethiopian Airlines plane can travel for nearly 120km before it hits the ground.
One of the things that the captain's gotta worry about now is with both engines shut down the aeroplane is going to go down.
It's just a matter of where, and that's going to be controlled by the pilot flying.
It's an extremely dangerous situation few pilots in the world have ever faced.
In 1983 another 767 pilot found himself in a similar predicament.
Air Canada Flight 143 ran out of fuel and landed on an abandoned air force base, sustaining only minor damage.
In the right circumstances a safe landing without power is possible.
Captain Abate hopes to land at the airport at the Comoros Islands, but struggling against the hijackers on the final turn, he loses his bearings and cannot visually locate the runway.
I was within the vicinity of the airport so I was keeping the airport in my sight all the time.
Then, through the struggle, I lost my position.
I lost where I was.
In the critical seconds it takes to find the airport again, he loses too much altitude and doesn't know if he can make it to a runway.
A water landing is now his only option.
He knew that he was gonna have to ditch the aeroplane.
He was gonna have to put the aeroplane down in the water.
How he was going to do that was now a different plan because he'd never been trained to do that, not with two engines out.
Landing on the ocean is even more dangerous than bringing a plane down on the ground.
If you were trying to crash-land on the ground, the aeroplane would have a surface to slide across.
That surface does not exist when you're ditching the aeroplane in water.
The aeroplane is going to touch down on the water, and then at some point it's going to dig in to that water.
When that happens the aeroplane's going to try to stop instantly.
In trying to bring his plane down safely, Abate faces unique challenges.
Planes such as the DC9 have flat bottoms which would skim the surface of the ocean on landing slowing down more smoothly.
But the engines on Abate's 767 hang below the body.
They could act as enormous scoops, grabbing hold of the water as the rest of the plane ploughs ahead.
The force will tear the jet apart.
ODDENYO: It was getting hotter and hotter so we started to sweat because I guess the airconditioning system was not working since there was no power.
And that's when people started to scream .
.
started to panic, looking for life jackets .
.
praying to Jesus, praying to Allah.
Some ladies were asking people to go and plead with the hijackers not realising that it wouldn't make any difference at this particular time.
We didn't have any fuel, and that was it - we were going down - but, I guess, at that time your hope is all you have.
HUDDLE: Descending fairly rapidly, the plane is lurching wildly a couple of times.
They are fighting up in the cockpit for the controls.
It's my responsibility.
The passengers must know what's going on.
Descend and increase the speed.
It doesn't make any difference.
Please? All the same, we're going to die.
Please maintain calm.
Prepare for an emergency landing.
Put on your life jackets, but do not inflate them.
Some passengers either don't hear the captain's instructions or decide to ignore them.
They inflate their life jackets.
I heard a pop, pop, pop, pop, pop back in the tourist class, and everybody panicked and inflated their life jackets.
I actually got up on my seat and told people, "Don't inflate your life jackets inside the plane.
" At the front of the plane Mo Amin tries a last-ditch attempt to negotiate with the hijackers.
Go! Sit down! Mo had a desire to dominate every situation he was in.
In a situation like that it would be Mo talking to the hijackers.
He would be negotiating with the hijackers.
He would be, I'm sure, trying to get the other passengers to face these guys down.
But Amin's efforts have no effect.
The hijackers are determined to let the aircraft crash.
Almost four hours after take-off, Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 has finally run out of fuel.
Hijackers have taken over the plane and have forced the captain to fly over the ocean.
For the first time since the hijacking began, Captain Abate gets some help.
The controls.
I need help.
They're too heavy.
We told them, "Guys, now we are on the last point.
"You should sit down and fasten your seatbelts.
" They refused.
I never thought I would ditch in my lifetime.
I never thought I would lose two engines and ditch in the middle of an ocean.
I never thought anything would like that happen in my life.
ODDENYO: Last few seconds, I remember looking out both sides of the window.
I could see water.
And then I took the crash-landing position.
All these things go through your mind.
I guess having been brought up in a Christian family I said my last prayers.
I said, "Well, if there is heaven, "I hope I get out on the right side of things.
" HUDDLE: Outside the window, you could see land at the last minute, and we realised that we were, for the first time, that we were near land but over water.
I used to love that aeroplane.
We used to call it "Zulu".
In my heart I was talking to it .
.
so I said, "Zulu, you can make it.
I know you'll make it.
" I was talking to it.
On the beach, tourists are stunned.
The horror of the crash is captured on one of their video cameras.
The plane is flying at more than 370km/h when it hits the water.
WOMAN WITH CAMERA: Oh, oh, my God! First bump, fairly gentle.
Then I sort of breathed a sigh of relief.
Wow! As soon as we touched the water, it was quite violent.
Then the second bump was like a 30mph-auto accident.
I had a feeling the plane was not going to hold.
The third bump, then I said, "Uh-oh, I'm dead," and I blacked out.
MAN: Oh, my God! WOMAN: Oh, no! The ditching was very rough.
The aircraft broke apart into three pieces.
Cockpit broke off, and the tail end broke off, so we started to go down.
There was water gushing in from both sides.
Passengers who survived the initial impact struggled to escape from the shattered wreckage.
As water pours in, people who have already inflated their life jackets become trapped.
The water pushes them towards the ceiling of the plane.
In that kind of panic, people do all sorts of things that maybe are not rational.
The life jackets make it very difficult to swim underwater.
Many passengers can't escape the sinking cabin.
The aircraft was full of water.
I have no fear of water, having done competitive swimming in school.
And I went for my seatbelt, and I couldn't find the buckle, so I moved my hand down to my knee and found it, pulled it open, and I pushed out.
And I looked to the back of the aircraft.
I could see some light at the end, and I decided to swim out in that direction.
As I swam out, one of the passengers trying to get out of her seat grabbed my leg, and I said to myself, "Oh, my God, this can cause me to drown.
" But I decided not to fight back, and they pulled themselves out and let go of my leg, and then I continued to swim out the back of the aircraft and swam to the surface.
I was really exhausted.
I felt very tired.
And I looked up and said, "Okay, could this be heaven?" Because I wasn't really sure whether I was alive or dead.
I was trying to tell the copilot to get out.
Then, he was not there.
Then I said, "Okay, then it's about time for me to go out.
" I woke up.
I was floating in the water.
And I went, "Hey, I'm alive!" I looked for my wife, who'd been sitting on my right, and she was gone, and my heart sank.
Then I looked to my left, and she was now on my left.
She had swirled around and swapped.
We were out floating in the ocean.
You can see what looks like an uninhabited cliff.
It might be a tropical island.
It's like a movie, you know.
When I levelled out and looked at sea level, I saw all these boats, these tourist boats - beautiful sails and all that - and I said, "I must still be on earth.
" And I looked around me and I could see all these people, life jackets and bits and pieces of debris, broken seats, floating bodies.
As I swam towards the beach, I saw this passport, which was a Kenyan passport, and I stopped and opened the passport, and believe it or not, it was mine.
So, I took the passport, folded it and put it in my pocket and continued to swim.
Oddenyo makes his way to a floating pallet of cargo that's burst loose from the plane.
He pulls himself on top and waits for rescue.
The plane was destroyed, ripped into several pieces.
I saw things scattered around me.
The tail of the aeroplane far away from me.
I never expected something like that would happen.
All I was expecting was to evacuate the passengers safely, and myself.
Abate swims to safety, but he has no idea how successful he's been.
He doesn't know whether any of his passengers have survived or what's happened to the hijackers.
After a four-hour struggle with hijackers, Captain Leul Abate crash-lands his passenger jet in the Indian Ocean near the Comoros Islands.
MAN: Oh, my God! His plane is shattered, but his skill may have saved the lives of many on board.
For those who survived the crash, Abate's decision to ditch the plane near the shore means that although the airliner breaks into pieces, it doesn't sink very far.
Fortunately, the water was very shallow.
In some cases, people were able to get out.
Locals and tourist swarm out to the downed aircraft.
A group of scuba divers, who narrowly missed being hit by the aircraft, help with the rescue effort.
In an amazing stroke of good luck, some French doctors are staying at the resort.
They offer immediate medical assistance.
In the end, of the 175 people on board the plane, 50 survive.
Without the actions of Abate, many more could have died.
Mo Amin, who had tried to rally the passengers against the hijackers, was standing up when the plane crashed.
He was probably thrown against a bulkhead when the plane crashed, dying instantly.
BUERK: Mo had survived everything.
He had more than nine lives.
And the idea that he should just be on an ordinary standard flight when the kind of news story that he didn't - wasn't aware of, hadn't been assigned to - caught up with him, and to be killed in this way has a kind of horrid irony about it.
The hijackers, who refused to sit for the landing, also died in the crash.
In the days after the disaster, other pieces of the puzzle became clearer.
Despite claims by the hijackers that there were 11 of them, in fact, there were only three.
But who were these desperate men, and what were their motives? They were imprisoned, thrown in jail, persecuted and tortured by the government - they didn't specify which government, at least, to be best of my understanding, and that they had escaped from jail and that they were going to make history.
They said they had friends in Australia, and they wanted to get united with them.
They wanted to go into a second country where they get refugee status and have a better living.
Before 9/11, it was remarkably easy for hijackers to gain access to pilots.
If you don't do what we say, we'll blow this plane out of the sky.
Despite numerous hijackings over the previous two decades, most airlines made no attempt to secure the cockpit.
- Do you want to die? - We'll die anyway.
So? Shall we kill you? The hijackers of Flight 961 were never linked to any terrorist group or political organisation.
Whatever their reasons, their crime demonstrated the great danger posed by a hijacker who places no value on his own life.
We will die together.
For years there were people in security saying, "We have to strengthen that cockpit door.
"We have to be able to exclude anyone from coming through that door "and getting control of that aircraft.
" Whatever the reason, whether the airlines didn't want to spend the money, they didn't see it as a threat, uh, it didn't happen.
After 9/11, every aircraft now has done that, that carries passengers, that has that capability of being hijacked.
Nothing is inevitable.
Nobody is immune to anything.
It could be one-in-a-million, but it can happen.
Both captain Leul Abate and his copilot, Yonas Merkuria, received many tributes for their actions on Flight 961, including a Flight Safety Foundation award.
I said, "It's good that I am alive, "and the world has understood what I had gone through.
" Despite their ordeal, both Captain Abate and his copilot, Merkuria, continue to work for Ethiopian Airlines.