A disgruntled airport guard hijacked a Middle East Airlines jet Saturday, forced it to shuttle between Lebanon and Cyprus for five hours, then vanished after the plane landed in Beirut.
One elderly passenger was killed and seven people were injured when the hijacker first seized the Boeing 707 in a demand for promotions and pay raises for himself and fellow employees.
Most of the injuries occurred when the 109 passengers scrambled down emergency chutes from the jet after shots were fired at the start of the hijacking. The elderly man, identified as Tawfik Hamada, 65, was reportedly killed as he attempted to get off the plane as it taxied for takeoff and was slammed to the ground by the exhaust of an engine.
Beirut radio stations identified the hijacker as Doraid Hassan, 25, a government guard at the airport. He demanded action on longstanding recommendations for promotions, raises and other benefits for low-ranking government workers.
After the jet returned to Beirut--following two stops at Larnaca on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 120 miles west of Beirut--airport officials sent two men to negotiate with Hassan.
But 30 minutes after the plane landed, as negotiators waited in a car, the pilot and co-pilot emerged to say Hassan had slipped away, apparently picked up by officers of the Progressive Socialist Party militia, the Druze organization headed by Tourism Minister Walid Jumblatt.
Hassan had boarded Flight 203 for Paris and London just before its scheduled takeoff at 11:30 a.m. He wore his uniform, with a pistol in a holster at his hip.
As passengers and security officials later told the story, Hassan fired four shots inside the plane and opened up a briefcase full of grenades to show he meant business.
“I’ve got 24 grenades in here,” one official who fled the plane quoted Hassan as saying.
Stewardesses immediately opened up doors, lowered emergency chutes and began shouting, “Evacuate the plane! Evacuate the plane!”
Soldiers outside fired into the plane’s tires to keep it from leaving, but the jet raced down the runway with doors open and chutes dangling and took off.
Then Hassan began radioing his threats and demands.