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Out of the blue

Crime is in the air

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By Elliott Neal Hester

April 27, 1999 | It happened on a sun-baked taxiway as our Boeing 727 prepared to depart from the Caribbean island of Curacao. And although I was right there, in the middle of the action -- along with a planeload of passengers and six fellow crew members -- I still can't believe it actually happened.

A few moments before we departed for Miami, I performed my part of the routine safety demonstration and then headed for my seat. Of the four flight attendants on board, two were assigned to the jump seat near the forward entry door. The other attendant and I were to occupy the seat attached to the emergency door at the rear of the aircraft.

The plane was full of suntanned vacationers, their smiles slowly fading as paradise became just another fond memory and the realities of the real world began to occupy their thoughts. None of them knew they were about to witness one of the boldest heists in aviation history.

After the captain made his departure announcement, the engines roared, the plane lurched forward and the aircraft began to roll down the taxiway. Some passengers dozed, others flipped impatiently through magazines. I chatted with Amy, the flight attendant beside me.

Suddenly, the plane came to a halt. From my seat at the rear of the aircraft, I saw the cockpit door swing open. Our captain -- a no-nonsense, ex-military type -- marched down the aisle at a gait that made everyone nervous. His face was a mask of professional indifference that aroused more suspicion than it averted. I turned to Amy. She threw a look at me. Without opening our mouths we came to the same conclusion: Something was terribly wrong.

As the captain approached, we unbuckled our seat belts and stood nervously. Like waves closing behind the wake of a speedboat, a mass of passenger heads leaned into the aisle as the captain passed their seats.

"The cargo door indicator light came on," he told me in a hushed voice. "I'm going to go check it out."

He opened the aft emergency door, pulled a lever that lowered the stairs, and a moment later he was gone. Just then, I noticed a passenger with both arms flailing. Apparently, he'd been trying to get our attention for a while. He was seated at a window seat on the left side of the aircraft, and as I approached, he began pointing out the window. "Just before the plane stopped, we saw a guy run underneath the airplane," he said. "He just ran underneath and disappeared." Several passengers nodded their heads.

A man sitting on the opposite side of the plane chimed in. "Yeah, and we saw a guy come from under this side of the airplane. He ran off carrying a bag."

 Next page | "Someone ran off with my bag"


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