Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Captain fantastic: Co Down-born pilot who fought off hijacker at 30,000ft

Bill Hagan with his wife Charmaine, son Aidan and daughter Allana
Bill Hagan with his wife Charmaine, son Aidan and daughter Allana

A real-life airplane hijacking hero has recalled the terrifying moments when he saved the lives of 379 passengers.

The Co Down-born pilot told of how his "street-fighting" qualities took over from his aviation skills on a British Airways flight from Gatwick to Nairobi in 2000.

Newcastle man Bill Hagan managed to wrestle to the floor a mentally ill passenger who had taken control of the joystick – dressed in his underpants.

Mr Hagan had been resting in the crew bunk when he heard his cockpit colleagues' cries of help as the Boeing 747 was steered into a steep dive.

On board 14 years ago were pop star Bryan Ferry, millionairess Lady Annabel Goldsmith and her daughter Jemima Khan, as well as Bill's wife and two children.

The now-retired pilot made several attempts to stop Kenyan student Paul Mukonyi killing himself and everyone else.

The 66-year-old, now an aviation consultant, said: "I got very angry. This guy was trying to kill my wife and my kids as well as everyone else on the plane.

"My little boy had asked me a few days earlier what I would do if I was attacked by a shark and I said I would jam a finger into its eye to stop it. That was my inspiration.

"So, I reached over the hijacker's head and, aiming for his eye socket, I pushed my finger into it as hard as I could."

While the former rugby player was bitten on the finger and ear, he managed to drag Mukonyi back into the Club Class cabin, forcing him onto the floor.

His scary experience led to all cockpits being closed off to passengers.

Mr Hagan, who lives in Glasgow, also gave his opinion on what happened on the missing Malaysian flight MH370.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he now believed the Malaysia Air crew may have been overcome by smoke or fumes, leaving the plane flying on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

He also discounted suggestions that the pilot of MH370 deliberately downed the plane in a suicide.

Speaking about the possibility of fire, Mr Hagan said: "In that situation smoke places a huge workload on the pilots."

He believes the plane's transponder may have been switched off by the loss of electricity supply as the pilots tried to identify the source of smoke.

Mr Hagan added that it was possible that the crew may have passed out in their smoke-filled cockpit and that the auto-pilot may have been engaged.

"The aircraft would have flown on that southerly heading until it ran out of fuel," he said.

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