Kazi Masihur 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 Masihur, 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 were 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 replied.
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.
P.S. I would love to say that when we got into the airport that was the end of the ordeal and we were well taken care of. Unfortunately the truth is that we and all 150 other passengers would continue to suffer for the next 12 hours. Airport or Biman were not ready to handle such a situation. But that's a story for another time...
(About this write-up the writer clearly mentioned that he was receiving so many phone calls and messages from his family members and friends about the incident. That's why he shared his experience with them. Regarding the pistol he said that he was not sure if the pistol or the bomb were real or toy. But at that particular moment we all thought that it was real and we all became extremely frightened. In reality what it was the investigators would know better.)