Passengers Discuss Terror on Flight 253
DETROIT - Most of the passengers on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 seated near seat 19A seemed to hear it. A single, loud pop - like a firecracker - 10 minutes before the flight landed.
"I heard the pop and then the next thing you know fire ... people running out of their seats," said Syed Jafry of Holland, Ohio, was one of the first passengers off the plane, seated a few rows in front of the suspect.
"It was a fire, it wasn't just a firecracker, it was a fire," Calvin Kakar, of New York, said. He was seated a few rows in front of the man, a Nigerian national identified by U.S. officials as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who is now in federal custody after trying to set off an explosive device.
"We heard a pop and the next thing you know it was a fire," Kakar said.
One by one, the passengers deplaned Friday with similar and various bits of the story. By all accounts, the suspect was immediately tackled by at least one man, and several other passengers immediately ran towards him trying to put the fire out.
In this post 9/11 era, the passengers were quick to respond to the impending threat.
"We were able to take care of it in no time," Jafry said, calling it a "little bit of commotion" for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Iliana Schilke of Livonia, Mich., said she saw a man, who was apparently burned in the process, jump over his seat to get to the suspect.
"Smoke, flames, yelling and screaming," is the way Schilke, seated a couple of rows behind the suspect, described the scene. Passengers yelled for water, flight attendants ran to get the fire extinguisher, and the fire was soon doused.
"It was scary when it happened," she said.
Jasmin Samimi, of Findlay, Ohio, said she saw the suspect taken in a chokehold by a passenger to the front of the plane.
Veena Saigl, of Ann Arbor, Mich.., also said she saw "a sturdy guy put a lock on his head."
"His pants were down," Saigl said of the suspect, calling the incident less scary and more frustrating and unorganized once passengers were allowed off the plane.
As the incident unfolded, passengers thought their lives were in danger.
"It was terrifying. I thought this was it," said Richelle Keepman of Oconomowoc, Wis. She said she thought she was going to die when she saw the flames.
Jasmin Samimi, returning from a trip to Ethiopia, said she was able to send a text to her mother, Jeannia Samimi, that there was a fire on the plane.
"Then," Jeannia Samimi said, "It's like silence."
The passengers said they were told to turn off their cell phones.
More than one person, like Keepman, saw another passenger taping the incident with a video camera.
"We just saw a man filming it and heard screaming," said Keepman, who was seated in the back of the plane and didn't see the incident occur.
Michigan native Melinda Dennis was sitting in the first row of first class when the suspect was placed in a seat across the aisle from her.
"He didn't say anything," said Dennis, who lives in Europe and was connecting to a flight to Arizona. "He was burned very severely on his leg ... He was very calm and didn't show any reaction to pain."
Agent Donald Dawkins, spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Detroit, said the bureau's K9 unit searched passenger's bags and luggage once they got off the plane. No other explosives or contraband were found.
Meanwhile, the passengers' family and friends anxiously waited in the McNamara Terminal International Arrivals lobby. A television tuned to CNN provided them with the only information about the incident they would get for most of the day.
By 1 p.m., Dawn Griffith, her daughter, Jessica, and dozens of others waiting saw a man handcuffed to a stretcher with bandaged hands wheeled by medical personnel.
"He went right by me," Jessica Griffith said.
"He was very young looking," Dawn Griffith added.
Griffith said her husband, Richard Griffith, a contractor returning from Iraq, called her around 12:20 p.m. to tell her he was about to get off the plane.
"I'll see you in a minute," he said. That was the last time she talked to him before he walked out of customs to greet her and their daughter around 5:30 p.m.
Jafry, Kakar and Richard Griffith all lauded their fellow passengers, the flight crew and law enforcement agents for how they handled the incident.
"It was the time to be proud to be an American for sure," Jafry said.