Hostage drama ends after EgyptAir jet is diverted to Cyprus with man wearing a suicide belt that turned out to be fake.
Passengers and crew members of the hijacked EgyptAir flight MS181 arrived in Cairo on Tuesday night after the hijacker was arrested at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport following a five-hour standoff.
The plane was flying from Alexandria to Cairo when it was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday morning.
The motive of the hijacker, who was wearing a fake suicide explosives belt, remained unclear.
Plane captain Omar Al-Gamal briefly spoke to the media before exiting Cairo International Airport’s arrival hall.
“Thank God that we are fine and all the passengers are fine. The man was arrested and it’s all over, thank God,” said Al-Gamal.
The passengers and crew were unharmed. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, were on board the Airbus 320, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.
Many Egyptians took to social media on Tuesday and made light of the hijacking, but passengers told Al Jazeera that they feared for their lives.
Passenger Farrah el-Dibany told Al Jazeera that it took a while for those aboard to realise that they were taken hostage.
“It was the moment that we saw we were flying over sea … I was horrified,” she said. “That’s when we realised something was wrong but nobody imagined that it could be that kind of thing.
“Then, one of the cabin crew passed by all of the passengers and collected all the passports without giving any reason. He just said that there was a problem and that they could not say anything more.
“About 45 minutes later, one of the cabin crew members told us that we were hijacked. They didn’t say by whom, or what the demands were, or where we were heading.
“It was a horrifying moment,” el-Dibany said.
Conflicting theories emerged about the motives of the hijacker, the 59-year-old Egyptian identified as Seif el-Din Mustafa.
A senior Cypriot official said Mustafa seemed unstable and the incident did not appear to be politically motivated. The Cypriot state broadcaster said he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.
“From the search of the aircraft, no explosives were found – not on the 59-year-old suspect, nor on the aircraft itself,” Cypriot police spokesman Andreas Angelides told reporters.
In the midst of the hijack, witnesses said he threw a letter on the apron at Larnaca airport, written in Arabic, and asked that it be delivered to his Greek-Cypriot ex-wife.
After the aircraft landed at Larnaca, negotiations began and everyone on board was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.
Soon afterwards, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.
The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.