A religious fanatic hijacked an airliner yesterday because the date, 9-9-09, was ‘the satanic number 666 turned upside down’. The Bible-carrying hijacker stood up as the plane was landing and told a flight attendant that a juice can he was carrying was a bomb. The pilot was forced to hold the 103 passengers and crew on the tarmac at Mexico City airport for more than an hour before armed police stormed the aircraft and escorted several handcuffed men away.
Police later said there was only one hijacker, and the other men aboard were detained because the suspect, Jose Flores, had told a flight attendant he had three accomplices, who he referred to as ‘the father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’. The others were quickly released.
American, French and Mexican citizens were among those on board, according to a U.S. official in Washington. All passengers and crew were released unharmed. Passenger Pamela Cheatham, 48, an insurance worker from Colorado, said she was cautious about flying on ‘fateful’ dates, but didn’t make the connection with ‘9-09-09’. 'When I was doing my flight I was like, ‘I don’t want to fly on 9/11, but then it didn’t hit me until this was all over,’ she said. ‘I should have evaluated that a little better.’
She added that passengers had no idea anything was wrong until they landed, when the pilot announced that they would be delayed on the tarmac for a security check. ‘When I saw the police with big guns and the SWAT teams on the side of the bus, then my anxiety started to happen,’ she said. ‘When they said women and children off, then I knew something had to be on the plane.’
Flores, 44, hijacked the Aeromexico Flight 576 from Cancun after a ‘divine revelation’, according to Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, telling him that the date, 9-9-09, was the satanic number 666 turned upside down. Speaking to reporters after he was detained, Flores said he took control of the aircraft with ‘a juice can … with some little lights I attached’. ‘Christ is coming soon,’ he added, smiling.
As the plane was landing, Flores stood up and showed his contraption to a flight attendant, Mr Luna said. He ordered the pilot to circle over Mexico City seven times, but the pilot, Ricardo Rios, said he couldn’t do that because the plane didn’t have enough fuel. The hijacker also asked to speak with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, saying he wanted to warn him of an impending earthquake. The suspect’s wife, Elizabeth Melgar, told a Mexican radio station that her husband ‘always told me that he was looking for a way to attract the attention of the media … he always told me that he was waiting for a signal from God to do something’. She said Flores had told her a prison sentence would be a ‘glory to God’.
Mary Pereyra de Flores, the suspect’s mother, told PAT television in his native Bolivia: ‘I knew that my son had this revelation a year ago, I knew he was going to try to talk to the president of Mexico.’ She also said she knew that 9-9-09 date had significance. ‘There was a revelation for that date,’ she said. ‘Today there is a promise for the people of God and retribution for everything that the enemy has stolen.’
Mr Luna said Flores is a drug addict who was convicted of armed robbery in Bolivia, and has lived in Mexico for 17 years. Flores described himself as a pastor in southern Oaxaca state who had gone to Cancun to preach. He is also a Christian music singer who goes by the stage name of Josmar. In a video posted on YouTube he sings about leaving drugs and finding God. ‘I was in jail, I was a despicable drug addict, but Christ freed me a few years ago,’ he sings to a crowded stadium.
Randy White, 54, a former law enforcement officer from Texas, said that ‘it wasn’t a big struggle’ when the hijacker was taken into custody, but the worst moment for him and his wife, Susan, was when women passengers were told to leave while the men stayed aboard. ‘I heard they were keeping them hostage,’ added Mrs White, 52. ‘I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t want to be separated, so I said I love you and gave him a kiss.’ She said her children told her by phone there were reports on the Internet that there was a bomb on the plane.
Other passengers said the hijacker - who was seated toward the rear of the plane - did not draw their attention during the flight. They described him as having a very serious demeanor, in stark contrast to the wildly-smiling, disjointed attitude he displayed after he was caught. Once Mexican officials negotiated the release of women and children through the pilot, they sent in the police. The plane was isolated at the end of a runway in an area designed for emergencies and the airport remained open.