Kazi Mashiur Rahman, ex-MD and CEO of
the Mercantile Bank Ltd, uploaded this post on his Facebook page to share what
he saw, experienced and perceived in Sunday’s attempted ‘plane hijack’ drama
among his friends and families. This is the first eyewitness account available
since the incident. He witnessed it all up-close, sitting on the front row. The
Daily Star last night talked to Mashiur, now in Dubai, and sought his
permission to run his unedited account as it may give readers an idea about
what actually happened inside the Bangladesh Biman plane.
On February 23, 2019, I officially
turned 65. According to the rules of Bangladesh Bank, it was time to say
goodbye to my career as a professional banker. My friends, family and
colleagues congratulated me on a job well done, and encouraged me to look
forward to some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Little did I know that the
first day of my retirement would turn out be one of the most harrowing days of
my entire life.
Lily and I had planned to visit her
sisters in Dubai immediately after my retirement. Once I lived and worked In
Dubai for a long time. It would allow us to reconnect with loved ones and give
me some time to think about what I wanted to do next.
So, on the afternoon of February 24,
we boarded BG147 from Dhaka to Dubai via Chittagong. We hadn’t flown with the
national carrier on international flights in over a decade, but, hearing
stories of how much it had improved in the past few years, we decided we’d give
their Business Class a try. Lily and I were sat in the window and aisle seats,
respectively, in Row 2, just one row away from the front bulkhead on the left
side of the plane. And elderly lady and another gentleman (most probably an
Indian) sat in front of us on the right side. Soon after the plane left Dhaka,
the gentleman moved to the left side with the permission of the cabin crew, leaving
a aisle seat empty in front of me.
The journey was unremarkable for the
first 15/20 minutes or so of the 50 minute flight. Then, suddenly a young man
entered into business class a young man from Economy Class entered into
business class and sat in the now empty seat in front of me, a backpack on his
lap. The cabin crew was taken aback, but, before anyone could protest, he
unzipped his backpack, reached in, and retrieved a handgun, a lighter and what
looked like an explosive device. He stood up, made his way to the front galley
in front of the closed cockpit door and proclaimed, in English, “This plane has
been hijacked! Open the cockpit door immediately….I will blow out the plane
if it’s landed. “Terror overcame the front cabin at these words. The curtains
were still drawn (opened later on) so it’s possible that no one at the back was
yet aware what was going on, but we could see the hijacker was armed. To prove
his point, he fired his handgun once at the door of the unoccupied lavatory in
the front. The smell of gunpowder filled the pressurized cabin air.
“I am a Scottish citizen. I have only
one demand: I want my wife back. She is a celebrity. …. “shouted the man. His
manner wasn’t normal: it seemed he was either severely unbalanced or on some
sort of drugs.
As the one occupying the aisle seat
nearest the front of the plane, I was closest to the would-be terrorist. I
asked him whether his wife was in board. “No, she’s not in the plane,” he
He soon became increasingly agitated.
He started kicking at the cockpit door, demanding to be let in. There was no
verbal response from the cockpit, but the pilot might have heard the message
loud and clear. Plane started descending sharp. The plane went into a near free
fall as we began climbing down from 30,000 feet towards the ground at an
alarming speed. On our way down the plane rolled violently from side to side. I
would later find out from the pilot that he had only one objective: to get the
plane on the ground at Chittagong before the cockpit was breached. He knew he
had the lives of nearly 150 souls in his hands, and he did all he could to keep
the controls out of the hand of the madman. The rolls were to try to knock the
man off balance.
In his agitation, the terrorist blank
fired his gun again. At this, the crew who had been trying to placate him
realized that he was dangerously unpredictable and ran back towards the economy
cabin. An uproar ensued, as those passengers in the back began to realize the
full gravity of the situation.
I spoke up again, shouting at him to
be reasonable. “What good will it do to kill all of us? Let us land and all 150
of us will request to the authorities so that we can get you what you want.” He
was unrelenting, saying that if the plane is landed he would be arrested. And
he would not allow that to happen. He will blow the plane with bomb.
He kept waving a lit lighter near the
fuse of the explosive in his hand, threatening to blow us all up. “I know I
will be arrested when this plane lands.”
At first I had feared that he may
have accomplices stationed in other areas of the plane. But hearing him speak
and watching him move, it became clear to me that he was most likely alone and
he didn’t have the skills or temperament to take control of the situation. But
the explosive and handgun were dangerously unpredictable.
As we continued our rapid descent, I
could see the Bay of Bengal fast approaching in the window. The approach at
Chittagong begins over the sea, but I wasn’t sure if we had enough height and
speed to make it to land or whether the pilot was attempting a water landing.
Eventually the plane’s wheels hit the edge of the runway and the pilot slammed
on the brakes. The speed at which we hit the tarmac had me concerned about
damage to the plane or skidding of the runway, but the pilot was very quickly
able to bring us to a slow crawl.
My own situation was dire. I was the
first person in the young man’s line of sight. If he was going to shoot anyone,
it would likely start with the cabin crew or me and my wife. If he was going to
trigger his explosive, I would take the most impact. I had to get out of there,
and move to relative safety at the back of the plane.
An opening presented itself when the
man was engaged by the cabin crew in a heated discussion. I grabbed my wife
Lily by the arm and we crawled on our arms and knees out of our seats into the
aisle and towards the back of the plane. Others in the business cabin followed.
When we got to the back, one of the
emergency exits had already been opened and there was a crowd of people
blocking it. The exit opposite it had not yet been opened so I tried that
instead. I’ve never opened a plane’s exit door and I’m not sure how I managed,
but I got it open and stepped out onto the wing.
I hadn’t quite realized how much of a
drop it was from the wing to the tarmac. Must have been 12 feet or so. I had no
choice, I jumped. It felt like I kept falling and it wasn’t exactly a smooth
landing. Later I realized I had badly scraped my ankle and slightly twisted my
knee. But at the time all I could think about was helping Lily down. I looked
up and saw her sitting by the edge of the wing, crying. I reached up but
couldn’t reach her legs hanging over the wing. I urged her to jump so I could
catch her. Before she had a chance to respond, someone from behind her pushed
her off, and she landed roughly, only partially caught by me. I was still
afraid of the purported explosive in the terrorist’s hand and wanted to get as
far away from the plane as possible. We were in no state to run but we walked as
quickly as we could toward the terminal in the distance. As we walked past the
still running jet engine, a blast of hot air knocked Lily and me off our feet
again. Thank God we didn’t walk in front of the engine, I don’t know if we
could have resisted being sucked in. By this time her throat was parched and
she couldn’t speak. She looked like she was about to faint/die. Someone from
the airport came running to us and, grabbing someone else’s half-drunk water
bottle offered it to her.
As we made it back into the airport,
an overwhelming sense of relief came over me. At that point in time I realised
that we left behind in the plane our passport, Boarding pass, mobile and all
other valuables By the Grace of the Almighty, we had somehow survived. At many
points in the last 30 minutes, I had told myself: this is it, this is how my
life ends. What an irony, people would say, the first day of his retirement
would be the last of his life. But the All-Merciful has other plans for Lily
and me. I’m not sure what they are yet, but I know nothing I do will be quite
the same after this experience.