Boeing 767-260ER Plane crash, [Flight 961]
23 November 1996
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was hijacked on 23 November 1996 leaving from Addis Ababa and travelling to Nairobi, by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum. The plane crash-landed in the Indian Ocean near Comoros after running out of fuel, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board.
When ET-AIZ, the Boeing 767-260ER, entered Kenyan airspace, three Ethiopian men believed to be two unemployed high school graduates and a nurse, named Alemayehu Bekeli Belayneh, Mathias Solomon Belay, and Sultan Ali Hussein charged the cockpit and hijacked the airplane telling the pilot that there were eleven hijackers on board. According to a special report by Airdisaster.com, "One of the men ran down the aisle toward the cockpit shouting statements that could not be understood, and his two accomplices followed soon after.
The men threatened to blow the plane out of the sky if the pilot, Leul Abate, and the co-pilot, Yonas Mekuria, did not follow their demands. announcing that they were seeking political asylum, having recently been released from prison and that they had a bomb. Authorities later determined that the "bomb" was a covered bottle of liquor.
The hijackers demanded that the plane be flown to Australia. the pilot tried to explain to the hijackers that the plane did not have enough fuel to make it to Australia which caused anger among the hijackers who did not believe him. Instead of flying towards Australia, the captain followed the African coastline. The hijackers noticed that land was still visible and forced the pilot to steer east. The pilot then secretly headed for the Comoro Islands, which lie midway between Madagascar and the African mainland.
Sequence showing the ditching of ET-AIZThe plane was nearly out of fuel as it approached the island group, but the hijackers continued to ignore the captain's warnings. Hoping to land the plane on the island the pilot continue to circle knowing that he was running out of fuel. When the plane eventually ran out of fuel, both engines failed. The crew used a ram air turbine to preserve the aircraft's most essential functions, but in this mode some hydraulic systemsósuch as the flapsówere inoperative.
Abate tried to make an emergency landing on the airport at Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, Grande Comore, but a fight with the hijackers at the last minute caused him to lose his view of direction, leaving him unable to locate the airport. He decided to try and land in shallow waters parallel with the waves for a softer landing. However, the fight with the hijackers who were trying to seize the controls of the airplane made the plane roll as it approached the surface of the water. The planes left engine and wingtip struck the water first. The engine acted as a scoop, slowing that side of the aircraft quickly, causing the Boeing 767 to violently spin left and break apart. Island residents and tourists, including a group of scuba divers and some French doctors on vacation, attempted rescue of crash survivors however alot of the passengers inflated their lifejackets inside the aircraf causing them to rise with the incoming water and becoming trapped inside the aircraft.
123 of the 175 passengers and crew members were killed, as well as all three hijackers. Many of the passengers who died survived the crash but they had disregarded or did not hear the pilots warning not to inflate their life jackets inside the aircraft, causing them to be pushed against the ceiling of the fuselage by the inflated life jackets, unable to escape, and drowned. An estimated 60 to 80 passengers, strapped to their seats, presumably drowned.
The pilot Abate and Co-pilot Mekuria survived. For his actions, Abate was awarded the Flight Safety Foundation Professionalism Award in Flight Safety.
This is perhaps one of the best-known hijackings because of the videotape. The video would later serve as an important tool in studies of aviation crashes and procedures.
This was one of very few large airliner water landings. Both the captain and co-pilot of the flight received aviation awards, and both continued to fly for Ethiopian Airlines.