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Air France Flight 8969

Air France Flight 8969 was a flight flying from Algiers, Algeria to Charles De Gaulle International Airport near Paris, France.

On the December 24 1994, four men dressed in Air Algerie uniforms boarded Air France Flight 8969 bound for Paris at 11:15. Immediately the terrorists demanded that the passengers close all of the window shutters and empty their personal belongings into a black plastic bag. Twenty-five-year-old Abdul Abdullah Yahia and three other members of the GIA (Groupe Islamique Arme, or better known as the Armed Islamic Group) brandished their AK-47 automatic weapons and demanded cooperation from the passengers and flight crew.

At 14:00, one of the terrorists discovered that there was an Algerian Policeman onboard the flight and quickly bought it to the attention of Yahia. The hijackers forcefully dragged the passenger up to the front of the passenger compartment and shot him in the back of the head. The remaining 226 passengers on board the Airbus A300 entered a state of shock as they witnessed the merciless actions of the terrorists. Just a few minutes later the hijackers made contact with the control tower at Houari Boumedienne International Airport and demanded that the plane be allowed to take off. After their initial request was not met, they dumped the body of the Algerian Police officer onto the runway and stated that if their demands were not immediately met, they would execute another hostage.

The Chief Security consultant for Air France, Philippe Legorjus, was on the phone continuously with the Commander of the Algerian Army's elite commando force, which had the Airbus surrounded. The terrorists wanted the Algerian Army to remove the mobile stairway and tire chocks to allow them to takeoff, but the Algerians were not going to give in very easily. As the rest of the crisis management team assembled off the Champs Elysees at the corporate head quarters of Air France in Paris, they decided that they had no other choice but to let the plane take off.

Prime Minister Balladur asked that the women and children were released in return for letting the aircraft fly to Paris. The GIA agreed to those terms and released 63 passengers. However when the order was given to the Algerian Colonel to have his men remove the staircase and chocks, he refused. The enraged hijackers executed a Vietnamese diplomat and sent his lifeless body tumbling down the stairway to the concrete.

The negotiations lasted throughout Christmas Day, but remained at a stalemate between the Algerian Elite Commandos surrounding the aircraft and the French and Algerian government. At 21:30 Christmas night, a voice came over the radio saying that the hijackers were going to kill him if they didn't let the plane take off in thirty minutes. Still at a standstill with the Algerian Colonel, the hijackers kept their word and at 22:00 they shot the young employee of the French Embassy in the head and dumped yet another body onto the runway. The GIA stated that they were going to kill one person every half an hour until the plane was allowed to fly to Paris.

During the intense standoff, authorities learned that the aircraft was laden with more than twenty sticks of dynamite and the GIA planned to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower in Paris blowing it up. The French government along with the enlistment of the United States decided that there was going to have to be an intervention. Captian Denis De Favier of the French GIGNalong with a small US Marine Corps Reconnaissance detachment put together a careful and precise plan to storm the plane and eliminate the terrorists with minimum loss of life. It was decided that the Marines would take the Airbus from the aft end, and the GIGN would secure the first class sections and cockpit. The two teams trained on an identical French Airbus at Neuilly Airfield until they were confident that they could implement their attempts on flight 8969. After leaving Neuilly, the Air France Airbus containing the hostage rescue teams flew to Algiers but was not given clearance to land, after circling for more than two hours; the aircraft was diverted to land in Spain to await further instructions.

Finally after nearly forty hours of intense negotiations and the loss of three lives, the Algerian Colonel gave in and removed the mobile staircase and wheel chocks at 02:00 the morning of the 26th. The negotiation team quickly formulated a plan to divert the flight to Marseille International Airport some five hundred miles south of Paris. Air Traffic controllers in the tower secretly communicated to the crew of flight 8969 to tell the hijackers that they didn't have enough fuel to make it all way the to Paris. The French and US forces left Spain and landed just twenty minutes before 8969 touched down at Marseille-Marignane Airport on the coast of France just after 03:30. Tired from the two day stand off, the hijackers maintained radio silence until late morning when the terrorists demand they receive nearly 27 tons of fuel; considerably more than needed to make the five hundred mile flight to Paris. It was believed that the hijackers wanted as much fuel as possible, making the Airbus into a flying bomb.

At 17:08 the day after Christmas, the Marines were poised along with the GIGN to take the plane, but just then the Air Bus began to move on the runway, heading right for the Air Traffic Control Tower. All of the careful positioning done to conceal the Special Forces units from being detected was altered as the enormous aircraft moved to within thirty meters from the Air Traffic Control Tower.

The GIGN was now goiing to have to storm the rear entry points to the aircraft and the Reconnaissance Marines were going to take the cockpit and first class section, unfortunately where the majority of the hijackers were accumulated. Suddenly, the distinctive sound of an AK-47 erupted from the cockpit of the Airbus, shattering glass in the control tower.

Captain De Favior gave the signal and the Special Forces moved in towards the Airbus onboard mobile staircases and catering equipment. Snipers already positioned in the tower began to return fire, being careful not to hit any of the crew in the cockpit. As the mobile staircases reached the right hand door to the first class area, one of the Marines manipulated the hatch's exterior mechanism as bullets riddled the thin aluminum exterior of the aircraft.

The pilots had crouched down in the cabin as far as they could, the Marines tossed stun grenades into the cockpit and first class section as they boarded the aircraft. They caught the first hijacker off guard as he was sprinting down the aisle, but the other hijackers in the cockpit area returned a barrage of automatic weapons fire that struck a Marine in the Chest. Suddenly one of the hijackers tossed a grenade down the aisle, as the commandos scrambled to get out of the way and provide cover for the passengers, the device exploded sending shrapnel into the legs of nearly everyone in the first class compartment.

The ensuing firefight would injure nine GIGN operatives, five Marines, thirteen passengers and three members of the crew. The thousands of rounds of automatic weapons fire was so fierce that the co-pilot of the Airbus decided to take his chances and jumped out of the cockpit window to the unforgiving concrete some twenty-five feet below breaking his leg. The GIGN deployed all of the emergency escape chutes to allow the people to evacuate the aircraft during the firefight that lasted nearly twenty minutes that at last left the four hijackers dead.

What happened to the flight number?

Air France Flight 8969 no longer exists. Flight 3543 and 7667 are now used to designate flights between Algiers and Paris.

See Also

List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners