By Constantinos Psillides
THE 37-year-old who forced a Ryanair flight from Thessaloniki to Paphos to divert to Athens was behaving erratically and passed through airport security holding a 1.5 metre pipe, a passenger on the flight told the Cyprus Mail yesterday as she related her experience of the ordeal.
The man, a Greek national who reportedly worked as an engineer for Ryanair, forced the plane to divert to Athens airport after he got up and started banging on the cockpit door.
He was subdued by the cabin crew and passengers and handed over to the Greek authorities. He was then transported to a psychiatric clinic, where it became known that he had a history of violent outbursts.
“We noticed him before the flight. He was not the kind of person to go unnoticed. He was very tall, I think maybe two metres, athletically built, with black curly hair. He was rather scary to be honest. Most of the passengers avoided him. He had a bag with the Ryanair logo with him and was holding a 1.5 metre long pipe, wrapped in a blue nylon bag. When the whole thing blew over and we were talking amongst ourselves about what happened, one of the other passengers said that he jokingly asked the guy where he was going with that and he replied that he would find out later on. The next time I saw him was at the gate, he was standing behind us. I was travelling with my mother and she let him through because she was a bit afraid of him,” said the passenger.
The female passenger told the Cyprus Mail how the man requested to be seated at the emergency exit, so he could have more legroom. She said everything was going fine until 15 minutes into the flight.
“The woman sitting next to him told me that the guy was sweating. He looked scared and was restless. She said that at one point he took out a small tool case packed with screwdrivers and started fiddling with them. She was concerned so she got up and notified the cabin crew. They told her to relax and that they know the guy and to return to her seat. She did so but that only lasted for a couple of minutes. She got up again and tried to tell one of the cabin crew to let her change seats. That’s when I saw the guy getting up. He probably figured out that they were talking about him. He hit two of the cabin crew, a man and a woman as they were in his way and made for the front of the plane. We leaned in to see what was happening and we saw him banging on the cockpit door and heard shouts. Then some people got up and tried to subdue him but it was not that easy. He was really massive and put up a fight. Thankfully the guys who engaged him had martial arts training. They were part of the Legion Run and had just come back from an event in Thessaloniki.”
A “Legion Run” is a worldwide obstacle course event, which took place in Cyprus on March, with Thessaloniki next on the calendar on June 21. Participants and promoters from Cyprus had just wrapped up the Thessaloniki event and were on their way home.
“When it became clear that some kind of a fight had broken out, every man moved to the front to see what was happening and to take a swing a the guy. That’s when the panic started. The plane started losing altitude and people started screaming and crying because they thought the plane was going down. People were crossing themselves and started praying, some kids from a football team that sat near me were crying. It was chaos in the cabin. The pilot went on the PA to tell everyone to calm down but there was too much commotion. Meanwhile, in the front the guy was still struggling to break free and people had to keep him down. Finally they all settled and the plane made for Athens where we landed.”
While the passenger who spoke to the Cyprus Mail didn’t have any complaint against Ryanair –some of the others had complained that they had no information regarding their next flight to Paphos while others said that they were left with no food or water for over three hours. But she did have some safety concerns.
“I don’t know if he took the pipe on the plane but how come he was allowed to take it past security or have tools with him on board. It’s not like they didn’t do any safety checks. I had a camera with me and they opened it up to see if there was anything inside. They even made people take their hats off to make sure that they didn’t have anything stashed. Why was he allowed to go through?”
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement regarding the incident, rejecting accusations that the Cyprus embassy in Athens didn’t do anything to help the passengers. The statement said that embassy personnel heard about the event on the media the day after and that none of the passengers contacted the embassy and asked for guidance or help.