Friday 24 December 2021

Remembering Air France Flight 8969

 As we get ready to spend time with loved ones over this holiday season, spare a thought for the passengers that were on this aircraft. This would be a Christmas they will never forget.

On the 24th December 1994 four armed men boarded Air France Flight 8969 which was due to depart Algiers-Houari Boumediene Airport (ALG/DAAG) for Paris-Orly Airport (ORY/LFPO) at 11:15 am. The men were dressed as Algerian presidential police; they wore blue uniforms with Air Algérie logos. Their presence originally did not cause any alarm. Two of the men began inspecting the passengers' passports while one went into the cockpit and the fourth stood guard. Claude Burgniard, a flight attendant, recalled noticing that the "police" were armed and one of them had dynamite showing, which she considered to be unusual as the Algerian police were not normally armed when carrying out checks. The Algerian military felt suspicious on noticing that the Air France flight appeared to have an unauthorised delay, so they began surrounding the aircraft. Zahida Kakachi, a passenger, recalled seeing members of the Special Intervention Group (GIS), known as "ninjas", outside the aircraft. Kakachi recalled hearing one of the "police" say "taghut," an Arabic word for "infidel", upon seeing the GIS men gathering outside the A300; she then realised that the four men on board the plane were terrorists. The four hijackers then revealed that they were not police, but mujahideen seeking to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. They had hijacked the aircraft because the national airline Air France was a symbol of France, which they viewed as infidel foreign invaders. 24 hours in, the hijackers released some of the passengers, mainly women with young children and those with severe medical conditions. Over 170 people still remained on board the plane. The hijackers offered to release the remaining Algerian passengers, but the Algerians refused to leave the aircraft. Delhemme recalled that one passenger who was refusing to leave said that he thought the crew would be killed if he did, and Delhemme believes that the passengers' motives were sincere. By the end of the 25th December, the hijackers had freed a total of 63 passengers. The terrorists murdered three passengers and their intention was to blow up the plane over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The terrorists demanded the plane be flown to Marseille. When the aircraft reached Marseille, the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), a counter-terror unit of the French National Gendarmerie, stormed the plane and killed all four hijackers. The remaining passengers and crew survived the 20-minute gun battle. Of the remaining passengers, 13 received minor injuries. 9 of the 30 GIGN operatives received injuries; of them, 1 received serious wounds. 3 crew members received injuries. 138 of the 220 passengers were Algerian citizens. A significant number of the passengers were French people leaving Algeria. Captain Bernard Delhemme said that the hijackers, who had extensively planned the operation, did not anticipate that most of the passengers would be Algerians.  The whole incident from start to finish lasted 54 hours.

Aircraft Information
Airline: Air France
Code: AF/AFR
Aircraft: Airbus A300B2-1C 
Registration F-GBEC
Serial Number: 104
First Flew: 28/02/1980
Age at Incident: 14 Yrs 10 Mts

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