View Full Version : Advice in a hijack situation!

25th Sep 2001, 23:03
Ok, so maybe this doesn't fit entirely within the guidelines for R&N, and may well be shifted to more obscure areas such as Notices. That would be a shame, because some postings have particular significance and shouldn't be hidden under a bush. I received this via a friend. It is a viewpoint of an experienced pilot with a police background.

I'm not saying I agree with all of its content, but I think it might provoke some serious thought amongst all professional crew vis a vis the traditional training and advice, given by airlines prior to the unprecidented events of late. Things have changed as a result and I believe he has a point, which is that we should all reconsider and question our response to what we would do faced with a scenario that was almost unbelievable a few weeks ago. Here it is, but please don't shoot me; I'm only the messenger!

Fraternal Brothers and Sisters,

My name is John Burnett. I am a DC-10 Captain for FedEx. I am also a
Police Officer for the Memphis Police Department.

My purpose in writing this is to share some of my thoughts regarding
actions a pilot might consider when faced with a modern-day hijacker. These
thoughts are "outside-the-box" when it comes to the way we've all been
trained. Neither the FAA or our companies will suggest any of these
techniques or implement them as a part of our normal training cycles. They
couldn't for fear of lawsuits.

I am distributing this via e-mail to buddies I've flown with. I'm asking
them to send it to their circle of friends within the industry, and for you
to send it to yours. I know most of us have e-mail, and I hope this
reaches the next to face the horror of some religious fanatic onboard.

We have all had "training" in what to do in case of a hijacking; try to
keep the hijacker calm, make him think you're doing what he wants, take him
ever he wants to go, etc., etc., etc. Save your passengers, your crew, and
your aircraft.

In an emergency, you will revert to that training. When our unfortunate
peers were faced with the screams of the Flight Attendants and hijacker's
demands to open the cockpit door, their training probably made them open
the door. When the fanatics made demands, their training told them to
comply as best they could. I can only wonder what their thoughts were as
they left the cockpit and were tied up in the back of the plane; what they
thought as they descended over New York.... I hope the fanatics had to kill
them in their seats and drag their dead bodies out of the cockpit. But, I
bet they did as they were trained to do....

As you look back over recent hijackings, FedEx, Egypt Air, and now the
September 11th hijackings, you see a perpetrator who, for one reason or
another wants to take over the airplane and kill himself. Each of these
hijackers, except for the FedEx incident, were successful. They took over
the airplane and killed everyone onboard.

If you're following the news programs today, you hear a lot about how we
could let these hijackers learn to fly. You would think if knowing how to
fly would guarantee a successful hijacking, Auburn Calloway (the FedEx
hijacker) would have been a hijacker success story. He was a Navy pilot, a
martial arts student, a fellow FedEx crew member, and he took all the
weapons he needed: hammers, knives and a spear gun. He didn't have to
overcome any Flight Attendants or demand they open the cockpit door. He
just went back to his bag, took out his hammer came back into the cockpit
and started crushing skulls.

The crew members on that flight didn't worry about Flight Attendants, they
didn't worry about passengers. All three pilots left the cockpit and
fought a hand-to-hand, life-or-death battle.

To survive today's hijacker, you cannot worry about your passengers; you
cannot worry about your Flight Attendants. You must develop a mind-set
that everyone onboard - including yourself - is already dead. Because, if
the hijacker is successful in taking over your airplane, not only you, your
crew, your passengers and your aircraft are lost, but thousands on the
ground are at risk.

One of the reasons the FedEx crew survived, is the extraordinary actions of
the co-pilot. Although he had brain injury, the co-pilot took the DC-10
and immediately executed a half-roll. This maneuver took the hijacker off
his feet as the Captain and S/O were struggling with him. During a point in
the maneuver, the hijacker, Captain and S/O were thrown back behind the
cockpit door. When he righted the airplane, the F/O then left his seat and
joined the fight in the galley area of the plane. It was only after the
Captain determined the hijacker was subdued, he returned to the cockpit and
flew the airplane to landing.

Very few of us have had to confront true evil. Fewer still have seriously
considered taking the life of another human being. I believe this is the
reason the FedEx crew did not kill their attacker. The crew's heroism that
day is beyond belief and any action that leads to a safe landing and
recovery cannot be argued with. But, when the Captain left the F/O and
S/O, thinking the situation was under control, he was mistaken. The F/O and
S/O had sustained serious, life threatening injuries. The hijacker had not.
As the Captain flew the aircraft, the hijacker, who had surrendered, began
the fight anew. As the airplane landed, the hijacker was just moments away
from overcoming the two crew members.

I mention this for your consideration. I would suggest that you make the
conscious decision to kill anyone who tries to take your airplane from you.
Today we are at war. The hijacker who comes through your cockpit door is
going to kill you and everyone onboard.

So, how do you do that? What weapons are available to us as pilots? The
intercom. Command that all men come forward and fight with the hijackers.
You have many able-bodied men onboard. They are sitting in shock not
knowing what to do. Command they come forward and help you kill your
attackers. And, they will come.

The airplane itself. Get the hijackers off their feet. Go into an
immediate dive to float them to the ceiling. Then execute a 6G positive
maneuver and hope they hit their head or break their back as they hit the
floor, galley shelf, etc. Dump the cabin - maybe one of the hijackers has a
head cold.

Pull the fire handles, shut the start levers and turn the fuel valves off.
If you lose the battle, at least the airplane won't be used as a guided
missile on a kamikaze mission. With luck, maybe these guys didn't learn
how to do an in-flight restart. Then leave the cockpit, all of you, and
kill your attackers, don't believe it when they surrender, don't be nice to
them, KILL THEM.

Flare Gun If your airplane has one, the Captain might consider making sure
it's loaded and secured next to his bag. I can think of nothing more
satisfying than watching a ball of burning phosphorous embedded into a
fanatic's gut, burning its way through him.

The crash-axe. I would suggest you have your co-pilot take it from it's
holder and secure it next to him so he has it immediately available. Makes
an excellent skull crusher. Your flashlight. The FAA use to require a 2
cell. A 3 cell Mag-Light makes an excellent weapon. If your maneuvers
have the hijackers on the floor writhing in pain, crush their skulls with

Your stolen hotel bic pen. Drive it into an attacker's eye, ear, throat, or
into the area just under the jaw bone. That's a particular interesting
place to drive it, because when he opens his mouth to scream, you can read
"Hyatt" sticking there.

Your hand and fingers Drive your fingers into his eyes and try to feel your
fingernails scrape the back of his eye sockets. Scoop the eyeballs out. It
will confuse the hell out of him when he finds himself looking at his shoes
as they dangle there on the ocular nerves. Your teeth. Remember Hannibal
Lecter. Eat a nose, a cheek, or a finger. And keep eating. Attack with all
viciousness. A piranha is a small fish, but it's greatly feared. A
hijacker is not expecting you to eat him and it might make him forget why
he got on your airplane to begin with. It will, at least, impress his

Now here's my wish-list of things the FAA could do to help, especially in
this time of war.

Arm the Captain The battle is not going to require any long shots and a
small revolver would be a good choice. It would hold off the attackers
long enough for you to disable your aircraft. If the attackers claimed the
red package they were holding was a bomb, I'd shoot out the door glass and
hope the door would be ripped out and the hijacker and his package would
be sucked out.

And hey, I if I got sucked out with him, I'd try to fly myself to the
hijacker look in his face and laugh at him all the way to the ground.

Invite the local Police to jumpseat Police are always looking for something
free. Donut shops use to be a favorite target for robbers - until they
started giving donuts to the Police. Robbers don't rob donut shops anymore.
I would suggest each Police Department send the FAA a list of the best
shots on the department and those guys and their guns would be welcome on
my airplane. Fill every vacant seat with armed Police - give them a donut -
and tell them to shoot anyone who gives your Flight Attendant any **** .

Stop this silly no-knife rule. Make it public. Tell the public they're
welcome to bring their pocket knives onboard. Then everyone will bring
them. When you make your intercom call for help, you'll have a dozen or
more knife wielding helpers trying to make sure their new Gerber tastes
fanatics blood. There are even a few of them who'd want to keep ears as

Law enforcement agencies are all aware there are copy-cat criminals and
fanatics. We have a number of loony fanatical hate-groups here in the USA:
ALF, PETA, KKK, Army of God, Anti-abortionists, and the list goes on. It
doesn't matter the size of your airplane. Right now, as I write this,
there is an anti-abortionist escapee here in the Memphis area. He's seen
what happened at the World Trade Center. A small commuter plane would do a
great job on an abortion clinic, or on an animal research facility, or on a
local synagogue, mosque, etc., etc., None of us is immune. Take some time
and consider your actions if this event should ever happen to you. My
prayer is none of you ever have to face this kind of decision.

Best of luck to you, and may God Bless.

John Burnett [email protected]

25th Sep 2001, 23:23
Can't say I agree with ALL of this - letting the general pax bring knives on board would end up with a blood bath on some of our flights, and that is without a hijack!
All the same I know I have given a lot of thought to my actions in this event and know that there is VERY little chance of my aircraft being used as per the 11 sept.(though I am sure beforehand I would probably have ended up doing the same as the pilots involved).
The message now needs to go out to ALL potential hijackers, that pilots will NOT be allowing their aircraft to be taken and used as weapons.

26th Sep 2001, 02:58
Very good Horatio.

How about a switch in the flight deck that diffuses an anaesthetic gas into the cabin. We take the aircraft down with our masks on and land with everyone asleep. (Handy for the law enforcers).

There may be an infant or elderly fatality onboard but no smoking wreckage.

Arrest anyone trying to board an aircraft with a respirator in their carry on.

26th Sep 2001, 06:16
Doing a half-roll is going to cause numerous casualties in a passenger aircraft, especially if the folks in back are fighting the hijacker. I'd hold back on that unless or until the hijackers start coming through the door -- sure will add spice to the sim checks.

Something like quarter to half G excursions in all three axes would prevent the bad guys from doing much in the way of harm with what ever weapons they've managed to get aboard. Hit the right rhythm and everybody in back will be too busy being sick to do anything.

2nd Oct 2001, 04:57
I'm curious into how effective a negative G bunt would be in disabling a hijacker. Anyone have any thoughts, I'm sure that 2 or more negative G applied suddenly could cause injury to neck/head of anyone still standing. If nothing else it would certainly cause them to fall.

A and C
2nd Oct 2001, 11:18
It is just stupid to discuss the action that you might take in the event of a hijack on an open forum like this.

i dont wish to be rude but i think that you should stop this speculation at once.

2nd Oct 2001, 13:34
A and C. I disagree with you here. I think far too many of us have adopted a "bury your head in the sand" approach to "unlikely" scenarios eventuating.

Prior to every departure now, I instruct my cabin crew and F/O on specific courses of action in the "unlikely" event of a hijacking. My actions (now) bare no resemblance to my company SOP's hijacking policy (which is currently being "reviewed". Some of the actions of the above post are spot on.

A judge once told me "dead men don't talk". If some squeaser tries to take over my aircraft now or in the future, my crew and I will do anything and everything to avert disaster.

This is the mind set I now have on every flight. Keeping things quiet on this forum does not proclude potential morons obtaining the required operational information currently in use with any airline. The abhorrent atrocities of 2 weeks ago are testimony to that.

[ 02 October 2001: Message edited by: shakespeare ]

2nd Oct 2001, 13:46

It is a great experienced in life when
you could sharing with one or another,
it is an expression of Love.

Be safe. ;)

EI - E I - O
2nd Oct 2001, 14:03
A & C, I do see your point, but I don't think any law or legislation, will ever stop people, like the Sept 11th and the Fedex, crew member, who were hell bent on sucicide. Its a horrible senario, to be in, but I must confess, if my back was to the wall, with someone like this, I think you would have to consider fighting fire with fire. Hyjackers are the lowest form of life, they are selfish and sacrifice innocent peoples lives, economies, and peoples very way of life, until they relise that taking over an aircraft, is a pointless way of putting across their crazy fantsies, the risk of hyjack will always remain. Until, the risk is eliminated, we are all being held to randsom, by these people and their allies. Perhaps, it is time to change the training books, on how we deal with these people in an "In Flight" situation, I am not saying ditch every aircraft, we get a crazy fool on, I just think, that maybe it is time to consider alternative options? It will all be about money and what is already available, which can be utilised, maybe the purser or the F.O. can play a very significant role, in perhaps, taking on the role of "Skymarshal"?/

2nd Oct 2001, 15:08
Guys as SLF I've often taken a 3-inch, lockable, serrated Swiss Army sailing knife onto about 70 sectors in the past year. I've had it taken from me by security, precisely ZERO times. However these days I don't carry it, and feel a little scared that I have no way of attacking the guy who had a knife delivered to him by possibly a sympathetic ground staffer (no offence intended to those honest people who work on the ground) - only maybe my keys poking through a clenched fist. However soon after the attacks, I thought that the dive idea had merit - remembering all the times flight attendants have been injured by aircraft encountering CAT; a hijacker on his feet will probably not be hanging onto anything & might end up with his head in the ceiling. As Horatio says, it would at least unbalance him & give the element of surprise back to the crew. These days I suspect any punters seeing anyone act suspiciously are more likely than ever to get up & grab the joker before he can do anything else; I for one would kick him into next week. I'd actually then like to gaffer-tape him to the jump seat so that he can see the successful landing, realise his life has been a failure & see the approaching police cars, before considering what might happen to him in jail...
Personally I had a get-off-and-identify-your-bag session at a European regional airport; the F/A & skipper were most apologetic. Guys & girls, please realise we SLF are behind you all the way in this - no need to apologise, we punters thank you for erring on the side of caution. No plane I'm on will be used as a weapon if I'm still standing.

3rd Oct 2001, 12:30

A and C
3rd Oct 2001, 14:10
Im not saying pretend a hijack could not happen to you so dont talk about it.

What i dont want to see is a better briefed hijacker ,i do have in mind an agressive defence of my aircraft in the event of hijack but i wont discuss this with eny one outside the company.

I am sure that if you get together with fellow crew members you to can come up with tactics to defend your selfs but dont publish them and give your "edge" to the hijacker.

The industry had a policy of "do what the hijackers say" befor sept 11 and this set of hijackers used the weekness in that policy ruthlesly and to maximum efect in this case knowlage was power ,if you reaction to a hijack situation is agressive and not predicted by the hijackers then you maintain your "edge".

To repeat myself it is stupid to discuss the anti hijack actions that you might employ on an open forum.

4th Oct 2001, 17:35
Whilst it may be prudent to restrict policies on this forum, I believe it is a good idea to talk about it.

I have been involved in a mock hijack performed by the airport police, which I found very interesting, not too mention frightening, even knowing it wasn't real. It lasted 8 hours.

The courage of the passengers and crew involved in these tragic incidents is beyond belief.

SOP's are what we are trained in, and yes they are what we follow, but they are the basic groundwork with which we operate and must contiue to do so. Each situation calls for a different approach and we must be trained in more aggressive practises in order to do our job. Don't get me wrong, I for one think that any firearms on board could result in misuse, and I am glad that I do not have to make that call. However, I believe that the point being missed is that we are not using the customers themselves.

The reason many are not travelling, in my humble opinion, is simply because the buffer zone they always had, that flight crew and cabin crew could handle ANYTHING, isn't there anymore. Therefore we need to empower our customers and maybe show them a short video on what to do in certain situations, send something with the tickets, make documentaries about it, SOMETHING!!! Give them the opportunity to to have a degree of control in the air. I personally do not think they will be scared away, I think they are more scared of not knowing what to do should a situation arise.

Thinking about all those that lost their lives, I am struck by a report of cabin crew calling their airlines from mobile phones, with the seat numbers of the hijackers.......would I have had the courage?

We HAVE to believe that all the employees and passengers did everything they knew how to, to stop the monsters that did this. Maybe....we ALL need to be taught a bit more.

Thoughts to the victims and families.

4th Oct 2001, 19:30
I agree with psr777 that passengers up to Sept. 11 have been a neglected resource that can be a vital advantage in an attempted hijack. Two hundred against a half-dozen will win even if the pax have nothing but their body weight to pile on the bad guys -- and they can pull up seat cushions for shields against pointy stuff and unlatch the seat belts from the seats and whack them on the head with the buckles.

Yes, put this stuff on ticket inserts, seat back safety cards and the safety briefing video.

That said, we are talking a major culture change since, up to now, the pax have been advised that the crew has everything under control; so, just stay out of the way and let us take care of you. "Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight"

4th Oct 2001, 21:12
I'm just curious, how much altitude do you lose doing a "half roll" in a DC-10. Where I was trained that manouver is to roll the aircraft on to it's back and then pull untill your level heading the other way. Are we talking about the same manouver?

4th Oct 2001, 22:09
Barrel rolls, loops, inverted negative G manouvers - all very exciting but still could be as dangerous as the hijackers. No way can a hijack be described as normal, but under normal conditions, most known hijacks occur during cruise, therefore most on board would not be strapped in when aerobatics commenced, in fact I would believe a commotion at the front would have several if not most SLF standing and craning their necks to have a look at whats going on. A simpler idea is, and I have discussed this with my own SEP instructors who are looking into this carefully, is to equip forward cabin crew members and flight decks with either pepper sprays and/or mace. This discharged into the face of an oncoming hijacker would soon slow them down enough to be able to enlist the help of a few large burly passengers to sit on them long enough to restrain them or slam dunk them into submission (sorry carried away there).
Already there are several CO2 fire extingushers so more cannisters adapted for inflight use would be of greater benefit than potentially risky aerobatics. The question is for the would be red baron's among us is, how much stress tolerance can this aircraft stand in a positive or negative G loading.

Where was that button :eek:

6th Oct 2001, 00:27
Can't say as I agree on the idea of Mace or pepper (OC) spray. Btw, of the two, OC spray is superior to Mace.

OC spray generally comes in one of three delivery types: fog, stream, and foam. If you use either the fog or the stream, the air recirculation will contaminate the entire cabin. You'd better get your full-face masks on...

The stream and fog are meant to be used at a distance of 5 to 15 feet. The propellant (usually alcohol based) evaporates quickly, leaving the pepper on the assailants skin. If you are too close to the subject (or spray too much), the propellant won't evaporate, so it sort of "insulates" the subject from the pepper, reducing the effect.

The foam types can be used indoors, but a clever perp pull the foam off his face and fling it back at you.

I just don't see OC spray as being useful while grappling with a knife wielding attacker, particularly one who is determined enough to commit suicide. I've been exposed to OC spray, and while it certainly isn't much fun, it's not going to stop someone from slashing away at you. If you're determined enough, you can continue to fight even though you've been sprayed.

OC spray is fine when some university students are staging a sit-in and don't want to leave. They are relatively static, you can deliver the spray from a stand-off distance, and they're not determined enough to endure much pain. But OC spray is not very useful when fighting a knife-wielding subject in very close quarters.


6th Oct 2001, 02:41
Both pepper and mace are far less effective when the target is wearing either goggles or glasses. Far better would be a tazer.

6th Oct 2001, 03:19
Personally I prefer the Gas-the-Cabin route.

An aircraft is probably uniquely suited to this solution as it is a sealed container; all air supplies come via the packs; adapting these for the application of a quick-acting sleeping gas, CS-type gas - or even, for that matter laughing(!!) gas - should not be difficult and would both dibilitate any hijackers as well as enabling thier capture. Granted it may be unpleasant an possible even unhealthy for some of the passengers, but nothing like as unhealthy as hitting the side of a 110-storey building at 300kts!!

We already have quickly accessible gas masks; surely this is vastly better that the more blood-thirsty methods described above???