Air stewardess and wife of hero pilot comes in to land
Charmaine on board flight when husband battled hijacker in cockpit fight
AN AIR stewardess whose pilot husband was hailed a hero after he foiled a mid-air hijacking on board a British Airways jet just months before 9/11 has retired after 44 years in the air.
Charmaine McCall-Hagan, 65, of Bothwell, South Lanarkshire, is one of the UK’s longest-serving cabin crew members and flew her last flight as a stewardess on a Loganair service from Shetland to Edinburgh on Friday.
But most of the passengers will not have realised she was travelling with her children on board a BA jet flying from Gatwick to Nairobi, piloted by her husband Captain Bill Hagan in December, 2000 when Paul Mukonyi burst into the cockpit – which in the days before the New York Twin Towers and Washington suicide attacks of September 2001 was not locked.
In the ensuing struggle auto-pilot became disengaged and the jumbo was knocked off course, sending it plunging.
The incident sent the Boeing 747 with 398 people on board, including singer Bryan Ferry, former motor racing world champion Jackie Stewart, socialite Jemima Goldsmith and her mother Lady Annabel, into a 10,000ft nosedive.
Mr Hagan had to resort to sticking his finger in the hijacker’s eye to stop his attack. The plane later landed safely.
Mrs McCall-Hagan said: “Afterwards we said it was like winning the lottery because we survived it.
“It wasn’t nice and it’s a shame because when you hear about plane crashes the passengers know they are going down and it’s not pleasant at all.”
Mr Hagan said of the incident: “The event between him and I went on for the best part of three minutes, so I had quite a wide selection of thoughts during that time, but ultimately my main concern was for the safety of the aircraft.
“A few days before we were on the aircraft I had been talking to my young son as he was then and he asked what you would do to fight off a shark if you were attacked by one. I said I had been told that if you stick your finger in its eye it might break off its attack and it was just at the time as we were going down I got the inspiration to gouge him with my finger.”
The story made front page news around the world, with the dramatic incident gaining even more exposure thanks to an image of Mukonyi lying trussed up and handcuffed on the floor of the first class upper deck as Ferry looks on bemused.
Mr Hagan, who has since retired, and his wife, and their daughter Alanna and son Aiden travelled to London where the pilot received a Golden Hero award from Ms G Awards in London from Lady Annabel.
Mrs McCall-Hagan started her career in 1973 at the age of 21 with British Airways, with her first flight to Belfast. It was on the Belfast route that she met her husband.
Her aviation career was primarily spent in Scotland, apart from six years when she worked with British Airways’ long-haul fleet travelling to destinations in the US and Africa.
The mother-of-two has looked after many well-known passengers during her extensive career, including footballer George Best, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne.
She joined Loganair in 2011 and the Scottish regional airline marked her departure by holding an informal ceremony in Sumburgh Airport’s departure lounge and announcing to passengers it would be her final flight.
Mrs McCall-Hagan said: “I’ve had a fantastic career and when you think about it I can’t go on forever – I must be the oldest stewardess in Britain. I’m just embarrassed about all the fuss.
“I’ve had a great time from start to finish. We own a boat in Largs so I could be swapping the skies for the ocean.”
Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair’s managing director, said: “Congratulations to Charmaine on her well-deserved retirement.”