DRAMA IN REAL LIFE “WE’RE KIDNAPPED!”

On the air­port tar­mac in Ja­maica, an armed man takes a plane’s crew hostage. It’s up to a pair of young flight at­ten­dants to save them all.

Reader's Digest International - - Front Page - BY NI­CHOLAS HUNE-BROWN

SANGSTER IN­TER­NA­TIONAL AIR­PORT in Mon­tego Bay, Ja­maica was quiet. The flow of va­ca­tion­ers that pass through the busy por­tal to the coun­try’s north coast had slowed to a trickle as pas­sen­gers boarded the fi­nal flight.

CanJet flight 918 was a dou­ble-stop flight from Hal­i­fax, tak­ing on and let­ting off pas­sen­gers in Ja­maica be­fore con­tin­u­ing to Cuba, then head­ing back to Nova Sco­tia, where the nowde­funct low-cost char­ter air­line was based. Just af­ter 10 p.m., on Sun­day, April 19, 2009, as the last few pas­sen­gers snaked to­ward the screen­ing area, a lanky fig­ure ap­peared among the tourists.

Hand­some and young, wear­ing shorts and loafers, the man looked like any other well-to-do Ja­maican. When se­cu­rity guards asked him to walk through the metal de­tec­tor, how­ever, he re­fused. He hitched up his shirt to re­veal a gleam of sil­ver, then pulled out a .38 re­volver and sprinted to­ward the gate where the Boe­ing 737 sat wait­ing.

On­board, eight crew mem­bers and 159 un­sus­pect­ing pas­sen­gers were al­ready seated when the gun­man en­tered. The pi­lot, Cap­tain James Mur­phy, came out of the cock­pit to in­ves­ti­gate, and flight at­ten­dant Heidi Tof­flemire and copi­lot Glenn John­son locked the door be­hind him, seal­ing off the flight deck. When the man an­nounced that he needed to leave Ja­maica that night, James lied and said the plane still needed to be

re­fu­eled. That’s when the hi­jacker placed the gun’s muz­zle against the pi­lot’s throat. “I am God,” he said. “I like to take lives.”

CAROLINA SANTIZO ARRIOLA, 28, had been a flight at­ten­dant for just over six months, al­ways tak­ing same­day flights and re­turn­ing home to Toronto each night to care for her seven-year-old son, Thomas. It was a tough job for a sin­gle mother, but Carolina al­ways thought back to her first months in Canada, when she’d ar­rived from Gu­atemala as a six-year-old who didn’t know a sin­gle word of Eng­lish. If she could sur­vive that, she told her­self, she could sur­vive any­thing.

She’d never worked a red-eye be­fore, but that week she agreed to cover a sick col­league’s shift, leav­ing her son with her par­ents. Carolina was mid­cabin hand­ing out cus­toms forms when she heard a com­mo­tion up front. A pas­sen­ger came rac­ing back, alarmed, and told her there was a man with a gun on board.

The flight at­ten­dant stared in stunned si­lence. It felt like some­thing out of a movie. As she moved for­ward, how­ever, Carolina saw the cock­pit was closed and a tall young man with a wild look in his eyes was hold­ing a

gun to the cap­tain’s neck. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew she couldn’t leave her co-worker, a father and a hus­band, with the gun­man.

As a flight at­ten­dant, Carolina had been taught to al­ways smile: When a pas­sen­ger is be­ing dif­fi­cult, smile. When you’ve dropped a tray of glasses on the floor, just beam and pre­tend ev­ery­thing’s okay. And so, with­out fully re­al­iz­ing it, she broke out in her friendli­est grin as she ap­proached the gun­man.

The gun­man smiled back. Later, she would learn he was Stephen Fray, the 21-year-old son of a re­spected Ja­maican busi­ness­man. She would have time to won­der what had hap­pened to the young man with such prom­ise, a kid who had gone to good schools and run on the track team. Was he on drugs? Men­tally ill? At the mo­ment, all she saw was some­one who was pan­ick­ing. Her in­stincts told her that the best hope for ev­ery­one on board was to get Stephen to calm down.

Stephen told Carolina he wanted bil­lions of dol­lars. He de­manded the pi­lot fly him to the Mid­dle East, then the United States, then Cuba. Be­fore he could go any­where, how­ever, he was con­vinced he needed to re­fuel the plane, and to get fuel he needed money. See­ing an op­por­tu­nity, Carolina made a sug­ges­tion. “The pas­sen­gers, they have a lot of money,” she said to him, and sug­gested he re­lease them in ex­change for what they had in their wal­lets.

Stephen agreed. “I like you,” he told Carolina. Re­leas­ing the cap­tain, he made the flight at­ten­dant his new hostage, put­ting the gun to her head. Then he de­manded the cap­tain leave the plane to tell of­fi­cials they needed fuel. James lin­gered by the air­craft en­trance, un­will­ing to dis­em­bark, so Stephen fired his gun to­ward the door, the bul­let just miss­ing the pi­lot, who es­caped down the ramp.

Carolina sud­denly found her­self in the role of chief negotiator with an armed hi­jacker. Wor­ried that peo­ple were try­ing to es­cape through the rear door, Stephen de­manded she use the in­ter­com to call the back of the plane. He wanted an­other flight at­ten­dant to come for­ward to tell him what the pas­sen­gers were do­ing.

NI­COLE ROGERS HAD be­come a flight at­ten­dant hop­ing for a life of ex­cite­ment. The Nova Sco­tia, Canada na­tive had al­ways liked to travel, and the job promised cos­mopoli­tan glam­our. But

TWENTY-EIGHT-YEAROLD CAROLINA FOUND HER­SELF IN THE ROLE OF CHIEF NEGOTIATOR WITH AN ARMED HI­JACKER.

her year and a half in the air had given her lit­tle chance to see the world. And af­ter hun­dreds of trips, she’d never en­coun­tered any­thing more dra­matic than a peeved cus­tomer or a flight de­lay—un­til that night.

With the in-charge flight at­ten­dant and the copi­lot locked in the cock­pit and the cap­tain off the plane, that left Ni­cole, Carolina, a se­cu­rity con­trac­tor and two other flight at­ten­dants. It also meant that Ni­cole, a pe­tite 26-year-old, was now the most se­nior crew mem­ber in the cabin. When the phone rang and the re­quest came to move to the front, Ni­cole war­ily stepped for­ward.

As she ap­proached, she made the same cal­cu­la­tion as her col­league Carolina. They would do what flight at­ten­dants do: treat their dif­fi­cult pas­sen­ger calmly but firmly. They would take charge and get these peo­ple off the plane.

Ni­cole in­structed the pas­sen­gers to exit. “Leave ev­ery­thing be­hind,” she yelled. “Grab your cash, put it in the bag and get off the plane!” The trav­el­ers made their way for­ward, drop­ping cash into a bag prof­fered by Carolina, who still had the gun’s muz­zle pressed to her neck. The bag quickly be­came full, bills scat­ter­ing across the floor.

Within an hour of the hi­jacker’s ar­rival, the flight at­ten­dants had man­aged to get each of the 159 pas­sen­gers out safely. Now, as Stephen de­manded they close the cabin door, the five re­main­ing mem­bers of the crew were alone, locked on the plane with the man with the gun.

REVEREND COURTNEY WALTERS had just ar­rived home when his phone rang. A cou­ple of years ear­lier, as part of an ef­fort to boost se­cu­rity be­fore the Cricket World Cup in Ja­maica, the 49-year-old po­lice chap­lain and protes­tant min­is­ter had taken hostage train­ing from a for­mer FBI agent. Now the po­lice de­ter­mined that he was the best per­son in Mon­tego Bay to talk down the gun­man.

As the po­lice chap­lain drove to the air­port, he was ner­vous. He had done some sim­u­la­tions, but how would a real-life hostage taker re­act?

No hi­jacker had ever held up an air­plane on Ja­maican soil. The Reverend was led to the air traffic con­trol tower, where po­lice and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers had a com­mand cen­ter. The Ja­maica De­fence Force’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism squad was fly­ing in from Kingston to man­age the sit­u­a­tion.

Po­lice wheeled a ramp next to the

WITH THE PAS­SEN­GERS OFF THE AIR­CRAFT, THE FIVE CREW MEM­BERS WERE NOW ALONE, LOCKED ON THE PLANE, WITH THE GUN­MAN.

plane and ran a mi­cro­phone out from the in­ter­com in the cock­pit, the only di­rect line to the hi­jacker. The Reverend climbed up, ready to ne­go­ti­ate.

Stephen wasn’t in­ter­ested. He swore at the Reverend and vowed to kill crew mem­bers. The Reverend had been taught to make a con­nec­tion with the hostage taker, but the more he spoke with the er­ratic young man, the more he wor­ried that rea­son­ing with him might not be pos­si­ble. Stephen had es­tab­lished that he wasn’t afraid to open fire. If they were forced to shoot him, what would hap­pen to the peo­ple on board?

THE HI­JACKER GATH­ERED the re­main­ing five hostages in the front of the plane. He sat be­hind Carolina, whom he’d placed on a stor­age con­tainer fac­ing the front row of seats, keep­ing his re­volver trained on her.

If she could make Stephen see her hu­man­ity, Carolina rea­soned, she would have a bet­ter chance of sur­vival. And so, over the next eight hours, as the Reverend con­tin­ued to try to ne­go­ti­ate, and the po­lice and army de­vised a plan to storm the plane, she talked to him and asked him ques­tions. At times, the young man opened up to her. His par­ents were divorced, he said, show­ing her a pic­ture of him­self as a kid with his father.

But as the night wore on, Stephen grew ag­i­tated and an­gry. Frus­trated that his de­mands for fuel kept be­ing de­layed, he in­structed Carolina to open the cock­pit door. She didn’t know the se­cu­rity code, she told him. “I’m a sin­gle mom,” she said, hop­ing to draw on the bond they’d es­tab--

lished. “If you do some­thing to me, you’re go­ing to leave my son alone.”

She felt the pis­tol against her head. “I don’t care,” Stephen said. “I’ll kill you, and then I’ll find him and kill him, too.”

BY 6:30 A.M., the po­lice were los­ing the ad­van­tage that came with the cover of dark­ness. It was time for them to make a move.

From her seat, Ni­cole could see a shad­owy fig­ure mov­ing across the tar­mac. “Why aren’t you storm­ing the plane?” she thought. Grow­ing para­noid, Stephen de­manded the crew shut the blinds and turn off the lights. Fi­nally, he told each of them to take an ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing from a carry-on suit­case and put it over their heads.

Carolina’s heart sunk. She’d been con­vinced that if he could see her face, he wouldn’t be able to kill her. Now it felt as if he was pre­par­ing them for their ex­e­cu­tion.

Sud­denly, the cabin phone rang. The copi­lot, Glenn John­son, told Stephen

THE WOMEN SHARE

A SPE­CIAL BOND. TO STAND BE­SIDE SOME­ONE

IN SUCH DIRE CIR­CUM­STANCES WAS TO TRULY KNOW THEM.

that the plane had fi­nally been re­fu­eled and was ready for take­off. He just needed him to check out the win­dow to see if the fuel truck was still at­tached.

Sit­ting in the dark with a skirt over her head, Ni­cole felt the gun­man squeeze past to get to the win­dow, press­ing the muz­zle of the gun to her shoul­der. All through that in­ter­minable night, the flight at­ten­dant had fix­ated on one thought: How do I dis­arm this ma­niac? Could she clock him with the fire ex­tin­guisher? Hit him with lug­gage? Each time she’d dis­missed the idea as too risky.

Now, as Stephen brushed past, the skirt over her head drooped slightly. Then sud­denly counter-ter­ror­ist com­man­dos burst in through the door, guns low­ered at Stephen, who froze. Ni­cole seized her chance. She took hold of the pis­tol pressed against her, wrenched the gun­man’s wrist to­ward the ceil­ing and twisted the weapon out of his hand.

“Gun, gun, gun, gun, gun!” she yelled and reached across the aisle and passed off the firearm to Carolina. Af­ter hours of be­ing threat­ened, Carolina needed more than any­thing to es­cape the cabin. She handed the gun to a com­mando, then she and Ni­cole grabbed hands and, ig­nor­ing the men yelling for ev­ery­one to get down, rushed out of the plane.

A FEW MONTHS later, Stephen Fray was on trial and Ni­cole flew to Ja­mai-

ca to tes­tify. “I wanted to show him I was fine, that what he did wasn’t go­ing to change my out­look,” says Ni­cole, now mar­ried and go­ing by Ni­cole Fo­ran. “I wasn’t afraid of him.”

Stephen’s lawyer pleaded in­san­ity. In the months lead­ing to the hi­jack­ing, his fam­ily said Stephen had been hear­ing voices and act­ing strangely. The at­tempted hi­jack­ing had been a re­sult of para­noid schizophre­nia. The court re­jected the de­fence and sen­tenced Stephen to 20 years in jail.

In De­cem­ber 2013, four years af­ter the most ter­ri­fy­ing night of their lives, the two women went to Ot­tawa for a cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate their hero­ism. Gov­er­nor Gen­eral David John­ston awarded Santizo Arriola the Medal of Brav­ery for con­vinc­ing the gun­man to re­lease the pas­sen­gers; Fo­ran was given the Star of Courage for dis­arm­ing the hi­jacker.

The evening be­fore the cer­e­mony, the pair had din­ner in an Ot­tawa restau­rant. Be­fore that flight, they’d been strangers, but the trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence had forged a unique bond. To stand be­side some­one in such a dire sit­u­a­tion was to know them in­ti­mately. “We have a spe­cial place for each other in our hearts,” says Ni­cole. “If she ever needs me, I’m there; if I ever need her, she’s there.”

That night, each woman re­lived the hi­jack­ing with the one other per­son who could fully un­der­stand. Flight 918 was Ni­cole’s fi­nal trip as a flight at­ten­dant. Life in the sky had lost its lus­ter; she got en­gaged and mar­ried soon af­ter and had two daugh­ters. Carolina mar­ried, too, and her son now has a sis­ter. She went to ther­apy for sev­eral years to work through her post-trau­matic stress, though she ac­knowl­edges the feel­ing may never go away. “It’s not con­stant,” says Carolina. “But it’s there.”

Even so, she still works as a flight at­ten­dant, smil­ing at pas­sen­gers who have no idea that the woman pour­ing them tea is a hero—the rookie flight at­ten­dant who talked down a hi­jacker.

Carolina Santizo Arriola (left) and Ni­cole Fo­ran—née Rogers—were awarded the Cana­dian Medal of Brav­ery and the Star of Courage, re­spec­tively, for their ac­tions.

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