Hijacking Survival Guidelines

Hijacking is extremely rare, but it does happen. It is well to consider how you should react if you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The physical takeover of the aircraft by the hijackers may be accompanied 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. Either way, how you and others react during these first few minutes of the hijacking is crucial in helping to avoid violence.

Remember that the hijackers will be extremely nervous and probably as scared as you are. Although they may appear calm, they cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or rationally. Fear can trigger a disaster. One wrong move by either a victim or a hijacker could easily set off a defensive spate of violence. To promote a peaceful resolution of the situation, follow these guidelines.

  • Stay calm, and encourage others around you to do the same.
  • Do not challenge the hijackers physically or verbally. Comply with their instructions. Do not struggle or try to escape unless you are absolutely certain of success.
  • If shooting occurs, keep your head down or drop to the floor.

Once the takeover of the aircraft has occurred, passengers 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 the position. You may need to stay that way for some time.
  • Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for a long ordeal.
  • Blend in with the other airline passengers. Avoid eye contact with your captors. Don't make any sudden or threatening movements. Remember there may be other hijackers covertly mixed among the regular passengers.
  • If addressed by the hijackers, respond in a calm tone of voice. If interrogated, keep answers short and limited to nonpolitical topics. Minimize the importance of your job. Give innocuous reasons for traveling. Never admit to any accusations.
  • Do not attempt to hide your passport or belongings.
  • 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. Occupy your mind by memorizing this information so that you can report it after your release.
  • 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, either by a hostage rescue team or through negotiation. In the latter instance, the hijackers may simply surrender to authorities or abandon the aircraft, crew and passengers. The following guidelines apply in the case of a rescue operation. The rescue may be similar to the hijacker's takeover -- noise, chaos, possibly shooting. The rescue force is re-taking control of the aircraft.

The termination of any hijacking incident is extremely tense. If an assault force attempts a rescue, it is imperative that you remain calm and out of the way. Make no sudden moves or take any action by which you could be mistaken for a terrorist and risk being injured or killed.

  • 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.
  • 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 is there to guide you, move as quickly as possible away from the aircraft and eventually move towards the terminal or control tower area.
  • Initially, the rescue force may have no way of knowing whether you are a hijacker or a victim. They may treat you as a hijacker or co-conspirator until they can determine that you are not part of the hijacking team.
  • Cooperate with local authorities and members of the U.S. Embassy, Consulate or other U.S. agencies in relating information about the hijacking.

Military personnel should review the information available at the Department of Defense Antiterrorism Assistance Web Site. The web address is www.dtic.mil/jcs/force_protection. This site includes the Service Member's Personal Protection Guide, which includes the DoD Code of Conduct for Personnel Subject to Terrorist Activity. It also includes CINC/Theater-specific requirements.