Ethiopian Airlines – Boeing B767-200ER (ET-AIZ) flight ET961

by | Apr 26, 2016 | Aviation Accident | 0 comments

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 : on Saturday, November 23, 1996, at approximately 1220 UTC, Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET961 , a Boeing 767-200 ER, registration ET-AIZ ditched in the Indian Ocean at Comoros Islands.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Abidjan with intermediate stops at Nairobi, Brazzaville and Lagos. There were 163 passengers and 12 crew members on board. The flight was delayed waiting for a connection flight and departed Addis at 0809 UTC.

The takeoff and the en-route climb to the planned cruising altitude of 39000 ft. were uneventful. According to the Cabin Crew’s report, 20 minutes after takeoff at about 0829 UTC, one of the hijackers stood up from his seat and rushed to the cockpit, and the other two followed him.

While rushing to the cockpit of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 one of the hijackers said “Everybody should be seated, I have a bomb“.

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 - Boeing B767-200ER (ET-AIZ)

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 – Boeing B767-200ER (ET-AIZ)

Then they opened the cockpit door and stormed in.

They declared to the pilots that they were eleven, started shouting, and beat the First Officer forcing him out of the cockpit. They then grabbed at the fire axe and fire extinguisher bottle from their respective stowages and ordered the pilot-in-command to change destination and fly to Australia.

The pilot-in-command explained to the hijackers that he had not enough fuel to reach Australia and demanded for a refueling stop.

Ignoring his request for a refueling stop, the hijackers of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 insisted that they had learned from the Ethiopian  inflight magazine “Selamta” that the 767 can fly 11 hours without refueling. The Pilot-incommand (PIC) tried to explain the difference between what is written in the magazine and the condition in which they were actually in. He explained to the hijackers that he had fuel to take them to Nairobi and further to Mombassa only.

He pointed to the fuel quantity indicator on the fuel management panel and indicated what an 11 hour fuel endurancewas and what he actuality had, but still, they insisted that if their demand was not met, they would destroy the aircraft along with the passengers with a bomb which they said they had in their possession. One of the hijackers whom the Pilot-in-command suspected to be the leader had the fire axe and a bottle of whisky. The other one was wearing a glove in which, he said, he had a bomb and in the other hand he had a bottle of Whisky. The third one had the fire extinguisher.

Two of the hijackers came out of the cockpit and stood by the left forward entry door and ordered every one to look down and stop talking. While two of the Hostesses (Tehut and Tsegereda) were seated on seats 2F and 2G, one of the hijackers ordered Tsegereda to come and set up the forward attendant panel so that he could make an announcement to the passengers.

The announcement was made in three languages, Amharic, English and French, and its content was that they had assumed control of the aircraft, that their destination was altered and that they had one bomb and would not hesitate to use it.

As the Pilot-in-command realized that the hijacking action had began, he informed Addis Area Control Center on 125.1 MHz that the aircraft had been hijacked, and that he was being ordered to fly to Australia. After which, the pilot was not allowed to make any communication.

At 0830, Addis Ababa Area Control Center called Nairobi Area Control Center to advise that Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 was diverting to Mombassa and that the aircraft was under unlawful interference. . The ETH 961 blip first appeared on radar of NACe at 08:51 :30 UTe squawking A2000, maintaining flight level 390 at position 35 nm on a bearing of 060· from position Rudolf and was heading 170· m (about 342 nm on a bearing 010· from JKIA). The flight maintained this heading and checked Nairobi FIR at 0855 UTC.

The leader of the hijackers ordered the Pilot-in-command to phone to Australia. The Pilot-in-command said that there was no telephone on board. When the hijacker threatened to beat him, he then asked for the phone number. The hijacker asked for Ethiopian Flight time table and flipped through some pages and showed the General Sales Agent Office telephone number in Australia to the Pilot-in-command.

At 0857 Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 contacted Nairobi and transmitted the message to be relayed to Australia. During this time the pilot had the opportunity to transmit the message and inform NACC of his flight level, position, fuel endurance and heading . The NACC requested if Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 intended to land in Mombasa.

The Pilot-in-command asked the hijacker if they were willing to land in Mombassa, but they refused. According to the tape script the Pilot-in-command said “….. I just wanted our hijackers to hear what you are communicating and if you have anything to say go ahead and tell them…..” .. and NACC said “…….I am advising you that with 2 (two) hours fuel you will be unable to reach your destination ….. and probably you will ditch in the ocean, the best solution is for your to land in Mombassa, ….. and pick some more fuel……”

The hijackers of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 told the Pilot-in-command to switch off the radio and that they were unwilling to negotiate on any terms. After which the leader removed the Pilot-in-command’s headset and sun-glasses from him and instructed him again not to make any communication.

In such a difficult and dangerous situation they kept on flying. After passing Mombassa, they headed towards Zanzibar and further along the south east coast of Africa. The Pilot-in-command still tried to dissuade the hijackers from following their foolish plan of not making a refuelling stop. Flying past abeam Dare-es-salaam the leader asked the Pilot-in-command to call again to Australia. This time the Pilot had another opportunity of calling Holloway radio (i.e. company radio) and informed them of the remaining fuel endurance. At the same time he informed DAR Center, of his position and heading.

Now for the second and last time the hijacker of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 snatched the captain’s headset and ordered him to flyaway from the coast, head to Australia and indicating to the altimeter not to descend below FL 390.
The Pilot-in-command turned left towards the Comoros Island.

The leader was sitting in the First Officer’s seat and was fiddling with the aircraft’s controls, kicking the rudder, whilst also drinking whisky.

The Pilot-in-command kept on telling them that he was running short of fuel pointing to the fuel quantity indicators, but the hijackers could not apprehend the dangerous situation that they were in. The leader continued fiddling with the controls, trying to turn the aileron and pulling the reverse thrust lever at random. As the flight came over the Comoros Islands the Pilot-in-command saw the Moroni International Airport runway and circled 15-20 nm south of the field. Then the LOW FUEL CAUTION came on.

  source : Aviation Accident Database youtube channel ©

The Pilot-in-command pleaded to land because of low fuel. The hijackers were unconcerned and only insisted that the pilot not descend below FL 390. At about 11:41 UTC the right engine ran down to wind milling speed. The Pilot-in-command showed the red warning message for the right engine on the EICAS to the hijacker (the leader).

At this moment, the hijacker left the right seat and went to the cabin door to discuss with the other two hijackers. This gave the Captain the opportunity to pick up his microphone and address the passengers.


The hijacker then came back to the cockpit and hit the microphone out of the PIC’s hand. After the right engine failed, the PIC started to descend the aircraft in order to increase speed, but the hijacker again interfered and violently played with the controls which resulted in improper control inputs.

As a result the autopilot of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 was disconnected and the flight became erratic with the airspeed varying between 216 kts and 336 kts.

The Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 ‘s flight path became wildly erratic because of improper control inputs made by the hijackers. As the PIC regained control of the aircraft, the left engine went dead. Some two minutes after this, the CVR and DFDR ceased to record. The hijacker kept on instructing the PIC not to descend and again went to the cabin. Upon returning to the cockpit he saw that the altitude was decreasing, and angrily shouted at the PIC not to go any lower. The PIC said that the fuel was already finished and that the engines were without power.

This time the hijacker instructed the captain not to touch the controls. and threatened to kill him. The Captain said “I am already dead because I am flying an airplane without engines power“.

The first Officer, who had earlier been forced out to the First Class Cabin, got up and, via the right aisle. went to the rear of the aircraft where he saw that a lot of economy class passengers had their life jackets on and that some had already inflated them. The First Officer, along with the cabin crew members, helped the passengers to deflate the life jackets and showed them how the jackets should be re-inflated and how to assume the brace position during impact.

While returning to the front of the aircraft, they repeated the same instructions as many times as they could. The instructions were only given in the English language, and so it is likely that some of the passengers might not have understood them.

About less than 2 minutes before the ditching, the co-pilot forced his way to the cockpit shouting “let me help the PIC…..”

After adjusting his seat and seat belts the PIC asked him for help since the controls were heavy. The hijackers still kept on struggling with the controls. By now, the aircraft was descending into the Indian Ocean over the Comoros Islands.

The aircraft now had only standby instruments and RAT (Ram Air Turbine).

The altimeter was indicating 150 feet and the airspeed was 200 Kts.
By this time the flight crew had been left alone to assume control.

They turned the aircraft to the left in order to parallel the waves. However, the aircraft brushed the water in a left-wing-low attitude. It was then held straight and level after which it broke into four sections. The aircraft was destroyed by impact.

The final approach until the crash was recorded with a video camera by a tourist on the beach. The accident occurred at 1220 UTC during daylight hours at coordinates of 11°22 S latitude and 43°18 E longitude.


Of the 175 occupants of the airplane, 125 were fatally injured as a result of the impact and drowning in the water.

  • The aircraft had a valid Certificate of Airworthiness in public transport category and had been maintained in accordance with approved procedures.
  • The flight crew were properly licensed and qualified for the flight.
  • Loading and center of gravity were in accordance with the company procedures and within the prescribed limits.
  • Adequate numbers of survival equipment were installed.
  • Cabin crew had checked that all passengers had their life vests on and stowed all loose items in their appropriate place.
  • Cabin crew yearly recurrent training was not conducted in accordance with CM directives.
  • The rescue operation was initially effective, but the time taken to winch all victims to safety was longer due to fear of suspected explosives.
  • CVR and DFDR did not guarantee a complete recording due to engine power loss before impact.
  • No indication of vertical speed information for proper ditching is available in the operation’s manual.
  • There is no procedure in the operation’s manual for two engines-out ditching.
  • Two engines-out ditching was outside the scope of training of the flight crew.
  • Training on Anti-Hijacking and other unusual situations was not conducted in a formal or structured presentation.

The Investigation Committee determines that the cause of this accident was unlawful interference by the hijackers which resulted in loss of engines thrust due to fuel exhaustion.


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Ethiopian Airlines – Boeing B767-200ER (ET-AIZ) flight ET961

Tags related to this event: ComorosDitchingEthiopian AirlinesHijack
Event date: 19961123
Airline / Operator:ETHIOPIAN Airlines
Model: B767-200ER
Make: Boeing
Registration: ET-AIZ
msn: 23916
Location: Comoros islands

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