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1981 hijack: Pilot recollects

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 11, 2009 1:46 pm    Post subject: 1981 hijack: Pilot recollects Reply with quote

A tale to tell: Captain U C Saxena
Hijacked plane pilot relives tense moments
By: Tanu Kulkarni

Amid gloomy news about the Air France and IAF plane crashes, we bring you a true life adventure with a happy ending. Capt U C Saxena recalls the time when, left at the mercy of 44 mercenaries, he steered all passengers on board a Boeing to safety

For Capt U C Saxena, the Air France and Indian Air Force plane crashes have brought back memories of the time he was piloting a hijacked plane.

Saxena steered an Air India Boeing 707 to Durban at the behest of hijackers from Seychelles on November 25, 1981. The hijackers who had arrived from Swaziland tried to stage an unsuccessful coup to oust the then Seychelles president, Albert Rene.

In this exclusive interview, Saxena, who now lives in Mumbai, tells MiD DAY he's glad he has lived to tell the tale.

In his words:

I could not figure out how the air traffic control at Seychelles could have let us land on a runway when a vehicle had blocked it. Confused and apprehensive, I came out of the cockpit and saw a stepladder and two men walking up instead of the usual Air India staff.

They were wearing only shorts and sneakers. They had sten guns, probably AK-47s, slung across their shoulders. I thought they were airport security personnel, probably dressed informally due to the weather.
Little did I know there were 44 hijackers waiting to board my plane so that they could be transported out of Seychelles. The air traffic control of Seychelles had placed a truck to avoid our landing but I had failed to realise this since it was dark. To make matters worse, our plane was damaged. The mercenaries demanded that I fly it.

Presence of mind

I kept my cool. Although several negative thoughts crossed my mind, I gathered courage and decided it was time my rigorous training was put to good use.

The mercenaries had given orders that the aircraft should head to Durban and threatened us that if we failed to follow their orders, the aircraft and passengers would suffer.

If the passengers and crew had not cooperated, I must admit that I would have had a different story to tell.
In fact, my crew managed the show so well that two Nigerian passengers were unaware of the hijack and asked us, 'Why is the flight late? When will we land at Bombay?'

All we did was play along and it paid off. My only concern was to save the lives of the passengers and the aircraft. After we landed in Durban, I heaved a sigh of relief.

I was glad there were no injuries and loss of lives. Then we were escorted to Bombay with the help of the South African authorities.

I spotted my wife and sons, who were eagerly awaiting my arrival. I waved to them and other Air Indians, crowding around them. To be frank, I became very emotional at that moment. As I alighted from the escalator, my wife garlanded me. It was all arranged by Air India. I hugged my wife and sons. They were really happy to see me and so was I. They must have been through many stressful moments after hearing of the hijack.

Several reporters were waiting but I was exhausted and could not talk to them. However, I was obliged to give some interviews.

No end

The drama does not end there. Twenty-five years later, I learnt from a newspaper in Mumbai that Peter Duffy, one of the hijackers, wanted to meet me and I obliged.

Various TV channels and publications wanted to witness our meeting and interview us. It was supposed to be a historic event. Never before had a hijacker met the hijacked.

We relived the entire hijack, which had taken place 25 years ago. The hijack left a deep scar and it is not possible to forget even a small link in the long chain of events. Even now, when I happen to think of it, I wonder how I survived.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A point whicht the report failed to metion was that India (and most of the world) were not friendly with South Africa at the time the incident took place. This was the apartheid South Africa under the Botha regime.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2017 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Durban mercenary involved in Seychelles coup dies before book about his life is published


The day a book about his life was sent to the printers, legendary Durban photographer Peter Duffy died.

Once a mercenary - who spent time in jail for his role in the failed 1981 Seychelles coup - his death while sitting on a bench outside a Durban shopping centre last week, could be considered somewhat of an anti-climax.

Before Duffy's death of a presumed heart attack, he had become a recluse - estranged from many, including his friend of more than 30 years, author and journalist Graham Linscott.

Linscott wrote the book Ricochets, the Life of mercenary soldier Peter Duffy after a series of interviews which took place in Linscott's home where Duffy was recuperating after a hip operation.

Duffy claimed he couldn't handle the stairs at his own home. True to Duffy's secretive style, no-one knew exactly where the house was, let alone had been there.

After signing a contract and co-operating with Linscott, he walked out of his house one day and said he wanted nothing more to do with the project.

"We didn't speak for three years. People said I should apologise to him. But there was nothing to apologise for. I didn't know what I had done wrong, if anything," Linscott said.

"But he was aware that the book was going to published and somehow got an advanced copy of it. I am told he showed it to several people who all told him he should be delighted with it. But now I will never know."

Linscott describes the book as a "romp" and not a serious book.

Because while it deals with some serious topics, it is told very much in Duffy's humorous and mischievous style.

"Linscott is the only man who understands my sense of humour," he used to say.

In the foreword, Linscott describes Duffy, who was born in Scotland into relative wealth, as an eccentric adventurer.

His was a coffee planter in Tanganyika, took up karate in Japan, acted as a film stunt man, and served as mercenary in the Congo, invading the Seychelles Islands and hijacking a plane to escape.

When he wanted a "quieter life" he took up news photography, working mainly for the Daily News and Sunday Tribune in Durban.

He loved eating out and cooking. In his later years he would be known to pitch up friend's houses armed with ingredients. Sometimes he would stay for weeks.

Up to his death, an "inner circle", including some of Durban's top restaurateurs remained loyal to him.

In a tribute posted on Facebook, former colleague Yogin Devan wrote: "I first met Peter Duffy when I joined the Sunday Tribune in 1980. Not too long thereafter he became involved in the hijacking saga.

"When he returned to the Tribune after serving his jail sentence, I worked with Duffy regularly. Some journalists frowned upon his antics as a mercenary and hijacker and gave him a wide berth.

"I preferred going on out-of-town assignments with Duffy - the boredom of long trips disappeared as he regaled me with stories about all his adventures.

"I also decided that Duffy could be handy when interviews became tricky - he had a black belt in karate.

"Duffy and I went on several exciting and dangerous missions into the then Transkei and Ciskei - and once got caught in the violence following a coup in Bisho.

"Duffy was most knowledgeable about gourmet cooking and alcoholic beverages. He bragged about cooking a good few last suppers when he was in Pretoria Central Prison. He recalled that one condemned prisoner's last meal request was scrambled eggs. Duffy was also a connoisseur of cocktails."

Devan said in October 2016, he arranged a cordial meeting in Mumbai between Duffy and Captain Umesh Saxena, the pilot of the Air India plane that Duffy and his fellow mercenaries had hijacked.

"They shared their versions of the episode over beers and a meal. I once read through the manuscripts of his life story. What a readů

"When I broke the news of Duffy's death to Capt Saxena this [Saturday] morning, he was shocked and saddened."

Ricochets will be officially launched on August 17 at Adams in Musgrave Centre, Durban.
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