An eight-hour hostage standoff aboard a chartered jet in Montego Bay, Jamaica, ended Monday without incident after police stormed the plane and the hijacker surrendered.
The incident began around 10 p.m. Sunday night, shortly after a CanJet flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia landed at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport.
A 20-year-old man who was subsequently described as “mentally unstable” pushed past security personnel and sneaked aboard the plane when luggage was being offloaded.The hijacker, Stephen Fray, tried to extract money and valuables from passengers before ordering them and most of the crew off the plane. Fray, who was reportedly carrying a firearm, then kept six crew members hostage and demanded to be flown to Cuba. The plane’s next scheduled stop was meant to be Santa Clara, Cuba.
Defense forces, counterterrorism negotiators and some of Fray’s family members were brought to the airport to negotiate with Fray during the night, which resulted in the release of the remaining crew. But when Fray still did not emerge, security forces boarded the plane and overtook the gunman without incident around 6:40 a.m.
Though one gunshot was heard during the standoff, none of the 158 passengers or crew reported any injuries. The passengers, who were on a trip organized by Transat Tours of Canada, were put up in hotel rooms in Montego Bay after their ordeal. They were debriefed by police while airport authorities arranged for them to fly home.
Though Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at Kingston airport on the other side of the island at the same time that the hijacking occurred, Jamaican police said that there was no connection between his visit and the hostage-taking incident. Harper offered the use of a Canadian government jet to return the passengers to Canada.
Some commentators have criticized the airport for its apparent vulnerability to attack. Daryl Vaz, Jamaica’s Information Minister, called the hijacking an “isolated incident,” but did not address security procedures at the airport.
Tourism is Jamaica’s biggest industry. More than 3.7 million people pass through Montego Bay’s airport every year, which is one of the biggest and most modern in the Caribbean. It is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation which is expected to last until the year 2022.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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