A lone gunman held six crew members of a Canadian charter plane hostage after seizing the Cuba-bound jet with 182 people on board following its landing in Jamaica.
Local and airline officials said all the passengers had been released unharmed, but the six members were still being held inside the CanJet plane at Montego Bay\’s Sangster International Airport. Earlier reports put the number of those held at five.
But CanJet General Manager Ken Woodside clarified to reporters, during a televised news conference early Monday, that the hostage situation involved six crew.
Two of them had apparently locked themselves in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 after the gunman managed to pass security and sneak into the plane after it landed. “Our top priority is the safe release of the remaining crew members,” Woodside said.
“We are providing full cooperation to security officials and the local authorities who are doing everything possible to bring this matter it a peaceful end.”
The identity of the gunman has not been released, but Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz described him to CNN television earlier as a “mentally-challenged youngster,” adding that the events should not be judged “in terms of an international incident.”
“His demand was to go to Cuba,” Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said of the gunman, who is believed to be a Jamaican in his early 20s.
The minister and the airline said two CanJet crew members had already been released.
No one was injured. Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding flew in to monitor the situation and offer support to passengers, who have been placed at a local hotel.
Golding told reporters his government would make a concerted effort to improve airport security in the aftermath of Sunday\’s breach. Police were negotiating with the hostage-taker with the help of his father in a bid to resolve the standoff, officials said.
Meanwhile, CanJet said in a statement posted on its website that “no harm has come to anyone remaining on board and there has been no damage to the aircraft.”
As police tried to determine how the armed man was able to penetrate security cordons and make his way into the jet, early reports and witness accounts indicated the gunman reached Flight 918 during its layover stop in Montego Bay at about 11:30 pm Sunday.
He entered the airport through a staff entrance with the help of fake identification cards, the reports said.
During the time the passengers and crew were kept hostage, one shot was fired, but it was later confirmed that no one was hurt.
Airport staff members described the gunman as a Latino-looking man, who was wearing a pair of short pants and a black long-sleeve shirt. A large contingent of police and army personnel cordoned off the airport, but officials were not willing to provide any additional details.
Once released by the gunman, Christen Gosslin, a passenger on the flight, told his father by telephone that the gunman demanded cash from the plane\’s occupants, CNN reported.
“The guy wanted to have all their money,” Gosslin\’s father, Alphonse, told the network.
“He (my son) told his girlfriend to take all the money and just take her passport and credit card and put it in her back pocket.” Christen Gosslin was part of a 25-person wedding party, who spoke to his father in New Brunswick, Canada, while waiting for another flight, CNN said.
Another passenger, Brenda Grenier, called her husband and said a man apparently had sneaked aboard the plane that took off from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and had taken hostages, CNN said. Grenier and her daughter were safe, her husband told CNN from his home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
CanJet said that its priority was the “well-being of the passengers and crew who were involved in the incident.” CanJet Airlines Flight 918 was being operated for Transat Tours Canada.