Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, a Boeing 767-200ER, was hijacked on Template:Date,[1] en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on a Bombay–Addis Ababa–Nairobi–Brazzaville–Lagos–Abidjan service,[2][3] by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum in Australia.[4] The plane crash-landed in the Indian Ocean near Grande Comore, Comoros Islands, due to fuel starvation, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board, along with the hijackers, while the rest of the people on board survived with injuries.[4]

At the time this accident took place, it was the second deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft.[5] However, it shifted to the third place after the occurrence of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Aircraft Edit

File:Air Tanzania Boeing 767-200ER ET-AIZ LGW 1991-7-6.png

The aircraft involved in the accident was a Boeing 767-260ER, registration ET-AIZ, c/n 23916, that had its maiden flight on Template:Date.[6] Powered with two Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4E engines, it was delivered new to Ethiopian Airlines on Template:Date.[6][7] Except for a short period between Template:Start date and Template:Start date that it was leased-out to Air Tanzania, the airplane spent its life comprising the Ethiopian Airlines fleet.[6] It was Template:Age in years and days textual version old at the time the accident took place.


When the aircraft, nicknamed Zulu by Ethiopian Airlines' pilots,[8] was still flying over Ethiopian airspace,[9] three Ethiopian men charged the cockpit and hijacked the aircraft after taking an axe and a fire extinguisher from the cockpit. According to a special report, "One of the men ran down the aisle toward the cockpit shouting statements that could not be understood, and his two accomplices followed soon after." The report described the men as "young (mid-twenties), inexperienced, psychologically fragile, and intoxicated."[9] Ethiopian state-operated radio later identified the hijackers as two unemployed high-school graduates and a nurse; their names were Alemayehu Bekeli Belayneh, Mathias Solomon Belay, and Sultan Ali Hussein (they did not say who had which description).[10]

The men threatened to blow the plane out of the sky if the pilot and co-pilot—Leul Abate and Yonas Mekuria—did not obey their demands. They announced over the intercom that they were opponents of the Ethiopian government seeking political asylum, having recently been released from prison. The hijackers said that there were eleven of them when in fact there were only three. Authorities later determined that the bomb was actually a covered bottle of liquor.[9][11][12]

The hijackers demanded the plane to be flown to Australia;[4][9] the in-flight magazine stated the 767 could make the trip on a full tank and the plane had been refueled at its last stopover. Leul tried to explain they had only taken on the fuel needed for the scheduled flight and thus could not even make a quarter of the journey, but the hijackers did not believe him.[12]

Instead of flying towards Australia, the captain followed the African coastline. The hijackers noticed that land was still visible and forced the pilot to steer east. Leul secretly headed for the Comoro Islands, which lie midway between Madagascar and the African mainland.[12]

Crash landingEdit

File:Ditching of Ethiopian Airlines Flt 961.JPG

The plane was nearly out of fuel as it approached the island group, but the hijackers continued to ignore the captain's warnings. Out of options, Leul began to circle the area, hoping to land the plane at the Comoros's main airport. When the plane ran out of fuel, both engines failed. The crew used a ram air turbine to preserve the aircraft's most essential functions, but in this mode some hydraulic systems –such as the flaps– were inoperative. This forced Leul to land at more than 175 knots (324 km/h; 201 mph).[12]

Leul tried to make an emergency landing at Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport on Grande Comore, but a fight with the hijackers at the last minute caused him to lose his visual point of reference, leaving him unable to locate the airport. While still fighting with the hijackers, he tried to ditch the aircraft in shallow waters 500 yards (457 m) off Le Galawa Beach Hotel, near Mitsamiouli at the northern end of Grande Comore island. Leul attempted to land parallel with the waves instead of against the waves in an effort to smooth the landing. ET-AIZ's left engine and wingtip struck the water first. The engine acted as a scoop and struck a coral reef, slowing that side of the aircraft quickly, causing the Boeing 767 to violently spin left and break apart. Island residents and tourists, including a group of scuba divers and some French doctors on vacation, came to the aid of crash survivors.[12][13] Many passengers died because they inflated their life jackets in the cabin,[9][11] causing them to be trapped inside by the rising water. This led to further notices about not inflating the vests before exiting the plane.

A tourist recorded a video of ET-AIZ crashing; she said that she had begun taping because she initially believed that the 767 formed a part of an air show for tourists.[14]

Fate of the passengers and crewEdit

The passengers originated from the following countries:[15] Template:Div col

  • Austria
  • Cameroon
  • Canada
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • France (4)[16]
  • Germany
  • Hungary (1)[16]
  • India (19, 6 survived)[17]
  • Israel (8)[16][18]
  • Italy (3)[16]
  • Japan[19] (at least 1 survived)[20]
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Nigeria
  • Somalia
  • South Korea
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Uganda
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom (7, at least 2 survived)[16][21]
  • United States (4, 3 survived)[16][20]
  • Yemen

Template:Div col end Of the passengers, 42 boarded in Bombay, including:[16]

  • 3 Americans
  • 19 Indians
  • 9 Nigerians
  • 9 Sri Lankans

The rest of the passengers boarded in Addis Ababa.

One hundred twenty-five of the 175 passengers and crew members were killed, as well as all three hijackers. Many of the passengers who died survived the initial crash, but they had disregarded or did not hear Leul's warning not to inflate their life jackets inside the aircraft, causing them to be pushed against the ceiling of the fuselage by the inflated life jackets when water flooded in. Unable to escape, they drowned. An estimated 60 to 80 passengers, strapped to their seats, presumably drowned.[22]

Leul and Yonas both survived. For his actions, Leul was awarded the Flight Safety Foundation Professionalism in Flight Safety Award.[23]

Notable passengersEdit

Among those killed was Mohamed Amin, a famous wartime photojournalist and publisher of Selamta, Ethiopian Airlines' in-flight magazine.[24] He was believed to be standing near the entrance to the cockpit arguing and negotiating with the hijacker presumed to be guarding the cockpit during the final moments of the flight. Brian Tetley, Amin's colleague, also died.[25]

Franklin Huddle, the U.S. Consul General of Bombay at the time, and his wife Chanya "Pom" Huddle both survived the crash.[20] Huddle said that he chose to fly on Ethiopian Airlines while planning a safari trip to Kenya because of the airline's reputation. Huddle said in an interview that Ethiopian Airlines was one of two in Africa to have Federal Aviation Administration certification. Huddle wanted a flight during the day, reasoning that flying during the day was "safer."[12] Huddle credited his and his wife's survival to a last-minute upgrade to business class.[26]

Other passengers on the aircraft included Lt.Gen.(Ret.) Antal Annus, the Hungarian ambassador to Kenya,[15] who died, and a French foreign ministry official.[27]


The incident has become a well-known hijacking because of the videotape.[14] The video later served as an important tool in studies of aviation crashes and procedures.Template:Citation needed

This was one of very few large airliner water landings, the first hijacked water landing. Both the captain and co-pilot of the flight received aviation awards, and both continued to fly for Ethiopian Airlines.[12]

In the mediaEdit

The crash was featured in two episodes of Mayday (Air Emergency, Air Crash Investigation). One appeared in season 1 to explain what might have happened if Air Transat Flight 236 had ditched instead of landing in a nearby airport. It appeared again in season 3, this time directly explaining the events of Flight 961. It was also featured in a 2010 episode of the Biography Channel series I Survived..., in which a survivor told his story of what happened on the plane,[28] and also appeared in the documentary Out of the Wreckage - Plane Crash Survivors, which features crashes that were caught on camera and with survivors.Template:Citation needed

See alsoEdit


  1. Template:Cite news
  2. Template:Cite news
  3. Template:Cite news
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Template:ASN accident
  5. Template:Cite news
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Mayday series, season 3, episode 13, interview with pilot Leul Abate
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Template:Cite web
  10. Template:Cite newsTemplate:Dead link
  11. 11.0 11.1 Template:Cite news
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 "African Hijack"/"Ocean Landing," Mayday
  13. Lendon, Brad. "Previous jet ditchings yielded survival lessons." CNN. Retrieved on 16 January 2009.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Honeymooners capture dramatic images of Ethiopian jet crash," CNN (via Archive.Org)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Cohen, Tom. I was sinking fast . . . I had to get out." Associated Press via The Independent. November 25, 1996. Retrieved on December 29, 2008.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 McNeil Jr., Donald (November 25, 1996). Terror in the Air, and Frantic Rescue From the Sea. The New York Times.
  17. "Hijacked Ethiopian Jet Crashes with 19 Indians Aboard." India Abroad. November 29, 1996. Retrieved on January 29, 2010.
  18. Plane Is Hijacked; Crashes In Ocean Off East Africa. The New York Times. November 24, 1996. Page 11, New York Edition. Retrieved on January 29, 2010.
  19. "Ethiopia mourns crash victims," CNN. November 25, 1996. Retrieved on November 24, 2009.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 "`I Thought I Had Finished My Life' -- Tale Depicts Drunken Abductors Who Fought With Pilot -- Survivors Tell Of Terror As Jetliner Tumbles Across Ocean's Surface." Washington Post via Associated Press and The Seattle Times. November 25, 1996. Retrieved on January 29, 2010.
  21. Template:Cite news
  22. Ethiopian airline crash kills at least 50. CNN. November 23, 1996.Template:Dead
  23. Template:Cite web
  24. Episode Seven, Mo & Me
  25. "Mohamed Amin, 53, Camera Eye During the Famine in Ethiopia," The New York Times. November 26, 1996.
  26. "No Resting Place," Brown University Alumni Magazine
  27. "Bizarre ordeal recounted in Ethiopian Airlines crash." CNN. November 24, 1996. Retrieved on December 29, 2008.Template:Dead link
  28. [1]

External linksEdit

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Template:Commercial Ditchings Template:Aviation incidents and accidents in 1996