Hostage Survival

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Any traveler could become a hostage. The odds of that happening are extremely low when the number of travelers is compared to the number of people that have actually become a hostage. However, there is always that slim chance that a traveler could end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With this in mind, the traveler should make sure that his/her affairs are in order before they travel abroad. Items of particular importance to an individual in a hostage situation are an up-to-date will, insurance policy and a power of attorney for the spouse. If these items have been taken care of before departure, the employee will not have to worry about the family’s welfare and the hostage can focus all of his/her efforts on the one thing of paramount importance and that is SURVIVAL!!

To survive, travelers should realize that there are certain dynamics involved in a hijacking or a kidnapping, and, to increase their ability to survive, they must understand how these interacting forces affect the end result. Each individual involved in an incident of this type will have an impact on the eventual outcome. One wrong move by either a victim or a hijacker could easily result in a disaster rather than a peaceful conclusion to the incident.

The first thing that a traveler should remember is that he or she is not the only one that is scared and nervous. Everyone involved is in the same emotional state, including the perpetrators. Fear can trigger a disaster, and it does not take much for some individuals to set off a defensive spate of violence. Whether it is a demonstration of violence to reinforce a demand or to incite fear in the minds of the hostages, the violence will be motivated by fanaticism and/or fear and that violence will be directed at the person(s) who are perceived to be a threat or a nuisance to the hijackers.

To minimize the possibility of being selected for special attention by the perpetrators and to maximize your ability to survive a hostage situation, here are some guidelines to remember:

The physical takeover of the aircraft by the hijackers may be characterized by noise, commotion, and possibly shooting and yelling, or it may be quiet and methodical with little more than an announcement by a crew member. These first few minutes of the hijacking are crucial:

  • Stay calm, and encourage others around you to do the same.
  • Remember that the hijackers are extremely nervous and are possibly scared.
  • Comply with your captor(s) directions.
  • If shooting occurs, keep your head down or drop to the floor.
  • Remain alert.

Once the takeover of the aircraft has occurred, you may be separated by citizenship, sex, race, etc. Your passport may be confiscated and your carry-on luggage ransacked. The aircraft may be diverted to another country. The hijackers may enter into a negotiation phase which could last indefinitely and/or the crew may be forced to fly the aircraft to yet another destination. During this phase passengers may be used as a bargaining tool in negotiations, lives may be threatened, or a number of passengers may be released in exchange for fuel, landing/departure rights, food, etc. This will be the longest phase of the hijacking:

  • ·If you are told to keep your head down or maintain another body position, talk yourself into relaxing into that position; you may need to stay that way for some time.
  • Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for a long ordeal. Do not attempt to hide your passport or belongings.
  • If addressed by the hijackers, respond in a regulated tone of voice.
  • Use your time wisely by observing the characteristics and behavior of the hijackers, mentally attach nicknames to each one and notice their dress, facial features and temperaments.
  • If you or a nearby passenger are in need of assistance due to illness or discomfort, solicit the assistance of a crew member first – do not attempt to approach a hijacker unless similar assistance has been rendered by them for other passengers.
  • If you are singled out by the hijackers, be responsive but do not volunteer information.

The last phase of the hijacking is resolution, be it by use of a hostage rescue team or resolution through negotiation. In the latter instance, the hijackers may simply surrender to authorities or abandon the aircraft, crew and passengers. In the case of a hostage rescue operation to resolve the hijacking:

  • The characteristics of a hostage rescue force introduction into the aircraft will be similar to the hijacker’s takeover – noise, chaos, possibly shooting – the rescue force is re-taking control of the aircraft. #
  • If you hear shots fired inside or outside the aircraft, immediately take a protective position – put your head down or drop to the floor.
  • If instructed by a rescue force to move, do so quickly, putting your hands up in the air or behind your head; make no sudden movements.
  • If fire or smoke appears, attempt to get emergency exits open, and use the inflatable slides or exit onto the wing.
  • Once you are on the tarmac, follow the instructions of the rescue force or local authorities; if neither are there to guide you, move as quickly as possible away from the aircraft and eventually move towards the terminal or control tower area.
  • Expect to be treated as a hijacker or co-conspirator by the rescue force; initially you will be treated roughly until it is determined by the rescue force that you are not part of the hijacking team.
  • Cooperate with local authorities and members of your embassy, consulate or other national agencies in relating information about the hijacking.
  • Onward travel and contact with family members will be arranged by your national authorities as soon as possible.