In the sweltering, suffocating heat of
the Russian airliner hijacked to Saudi Arabia, passengers fainted and
An occasional mouthful of water
helped ease the suffering in the first hours of the ordeal. Then, the
water ran out.
``It was very stuffy inside the
plane, there wasn't enough oxygen,'' said one of the freed hostages,
Vera, who refused to give her last name.
``It was terrible. People fainted,''
she said in a telephone interview from a hotel in the Saudi Arabian
city of Medina, where passengers were taken after commandos rushed up
ladders and broke through the windows and doors of the Russian plane.
More than 100 hostages were freed
Friday in the rescue that ended a hijacking by Chechen rebels. Three
people -- a flight attendant, a hijacker and a passenger -- were
The Saudi Interior Ministry said the
rescue came after the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane, which
sat on the tarmac for 18 hours while Saudi authorities tried to
negotiate the hostages' release.
As talks dragged on, conditions on
board grew increasingly worse.
Hostage Monika Turkan told Russia's
ORT television that the hijackers allowed passengers to drink water --
until there was no water left.
``Nobody knew what they wanted,''
Turkan said. ``Then, we were told they wanted Russian troops to pull
out of Chechnya.''
The crew tried to comfort the
passengers, many of whom were crying.
``They supported us psychologically,
they managed to feed us,'' said another freed passenger, Liliya
One of the hijackers was armed with a
knife, another had an ax he picked up from the airplane's emergency
equipment kit, witnesses said. The hijackers said they also had a
bomb, but none of the passengers recalled seeing one.
The pilots locked the cockpit door on
the flight to Medina, the crew said. The hijackers tried to chop
through the door with the ax -- then gave up and started to issue
instructions through the aircraft's intercom system, pilots said.
``The door was armored. But it's an
old airplane and the door was loose,'' flight engineer Andrei
Guselnikov told Russia's RTR television in a telephone interview from
Medina. ``The handle wouldn't close, and during the whole flight from
Istanbul to Saudi Arabia we held the handle up.''
The plane had 174 people on board
when it was hijacked Thursday afternoon shortly after taking off from
Istanbul for Moscow. As many as 46 of the passengers were freed or
escaped from the Vnukova Airlines plane after it landed in Medina.
The crisis ended when Saudi commandos
stormed the plane, breaking in through the windows, emergency exits
and main doors. Russian flight attendant Yulia Fomina, 27, swung one
of the doors open. It apparently cost her her life.
``When the stewardess bravely went to
the door and opened it from this side, (the hijackers) understood that
the crew had left the airplane and soldiers were already aboard,''
said passenger Svetlana Yarosh. ``Immediately shooting started.''
Paramedics said one of the hijackers
and a passenger were killed by gunfire. Turkey's Anatolia news agency
said the dead passenger was a 27-year-old Turk, Gursel Kambal.
Commandos pushed two other hijackers
face down onto the tarmac and handcuffed them as the hostages streamed
past them to safety.
Vladimir Pronichev, first deputy
director of Russia's Federal Security Service, told Russian television
that negotiations to extradite the hijackers were under way.
Aftayeva Fariza, a Chechen
representative in Jordan, told The Associated Press that two brothers
hijacked the plane, one of whom was a former Chechen security
Chechen separatists' violent campaign
often has spilled over the republic's borders in hijackings and raids,
with Turkey a frequent site. In November, a Chechen gunman seized a
Russian airliner with 58 people aboard and diverted it to Israel,
where he surrendered.
Source: (AP) The New York Times