Beating the Odds
Franklin: The hijackers' English was terrible. We heard them saying "hijacking" and "opposition," but it took a while to understand what was going on. We saw two of them—one was 5'6", with facial hair; the other a rawboned guy, well-dressed, 5'11", 150 lbs. One brandished a small ax, the other a bottle—we don't know if it was a bomb or a fake. The mood in the cabin was a sort of fixed nervousness. I felt a mixture of anger and frustration that we couldn't challenge these guys.
For the next few hours, we didn't know where we were. I was concerned that they would put us down in Zaire or Rwanda, in the middle of the conflict. I tried to get passengers next to us to look out the window. I wanted intelligence! But they kept reading their newspapers. People were jittery. They did not want to irritate the hijackers.
Chanya: I wasn't nervous at all—in a kidnapping like this, usually you don't die. I thought the military or someone would save us, like in the movies.
The silence from the cockpit was broken after nearly four hours: Captain Abate announced that the hijackers had forbidden him to refuel and that one engine had shut down. He instructed the cabin crew to prepare for a crash landing. A seasoned pilot of small planes,Franklin thought, "Wow, this is it."
Chanya: I said, "Don't worry, we will be on CNN." "And Franklin said, "This is no joke—we're dying."
Franklin: There was a fair amount of panic now. Some people were crying. But we stayed calm and took charge. Chanya was amazing. Several people owe her their lives, because she helped them keep calm and find their life vests. We could hear people in tourist class inflating their vests—pop, pop, pop. After the crash, their section turned upside down, and they were trapped under the fuselage by the air in their jackets. We told people near us not to inflate theirs prematurely, and to sit down.
Chanya: I asked my husband to get his extra glasses, and I put them and his passport in a plastic bag in his pocket. And I asked him to give me $100—I wanted to have money when we landed.
Franklin: In the last two minutes, I was really focused and much less nervous.
Chanya: My husband looked at me and said, "I love you." I said, "No, don't say that, we will not die."
When it hit the ocean close to the town of Moroni, the 767 somersaulted and broke apart. The front section, with business-class passengers, landed upright.
Franklin: I intentionally relaxed at the moment of impact. At first it was gentle; the second bounce was like a 60-miles-an-hour collision. Then there was a tremendous tumbling.
Chanya: Water gushed in, and I closed my eyes. Somehow I came to the surface. I opened my eyes and saw Franklin, and he said, "We are alive!"
Franklin: The seats are like inner tubes—they floated to the surface. We went from sitting upright in the plane to sitting upright in the water.
Amid a scene in which bodies drifted past windsurfers from nearby resorts, the Huddles were rescued by a rubber boat. Franklin's foot was sliced open; Chanya had minor lacerations.
Chanya: It wasn't so bad—we are lucky, and we feel sorry for the poor people that died.
Franklin: When I found out where we were, I almost laughed. I have this friend who likes to travel to islands; just this year he said, "Let's go to the Comoros." He called me at the hospital, and I said, "Well, I got here first."