October 15, 2000: With an arrival time of 5.40 p.m. in Heathrow airport, the third Saudi Arabian Airlines flight 115 was London bound after its departure from King Abdul-Aziz Airport in Jeddah. It is estimated by the flight logs, that 45 of the 90 people on board the aircraft (a Boeing 777-200) were British nationals, most of whom were returning home after their pilgrimage. There was also a member of the Saudi Royal family onboard the plane. As the plane was lifting off the tarmac, most passengers believed that they had left the troubles of the Middle East behind them.
Almost two hours into the flight, a man announced to the cabin crew that he had taken over the plane and that it was to be diverted to Damascus, Syria. The timing for this hijack could not have been any more ironic as Saudi Arabian Airlines had only a month ago, organized a course in hostage negotiation and crisis management. A three-day event had taken place in Jeddah, highlighting the challenges that were faced by the airlines and provided important insight into tackling those problems. The airline boasted about being one of the top airlines for passenger and flight safety, and so the news came as more of a shock.
The plane reportedly flew over Cairo, and it is here that the Egyptian authorities were informed of the situation by a cunning pilot who just about managed to get a distress signal out before going completely radio silent. The hijackers, who were now even more desperate threatened to blow up the plane with TNT which they claimed to be in possession of. While in Egyptian airspace, the plane received news that Syrian authorities had refused to let the plane land on their soil. The plane circled around along the border of Syria finding somewhere to land, till it could land in Damascus.
Although the plane was headed towards the Syrian capital, it kept on flying towards Baghdad without landing. Saddam International Airport was now on high alert, the presence of Saudi Royalty on board meant that nothing could go wrong and the situation had to be resolved under any circumstances. Ambulances and all necessary vehicles were on standby. When the plane landed in Baghdad many of the relatives of the passengers breathed a sigh of relief. This relief was however short-lived as authorities refused to disclose the passenger list to anyone.
Along with the Britons, citizens of Pakistan, Oman, Kenya and Saudi Arabia were on board the plane, and as time passed the relatives of the passengers starting getting more anxious. The relatives had been gathered up by security guards at Heathrow airport and placed in a hall. According to Saudi Airlines spokesman Phillip Griffin, around 60 relatives had gathered at the airport.
After a wait of more than three agonizing hours, the news that everybody was so desperately waiting for was here. The Iraqi authorities finally issued a statement that all aboard the plane had been safely evacuated and there had been no injuries or deaths.