KINGSTON, Jamaica — A disoriented young man with a gun forced his way past security and barged onto a jetliner destined for Cuba, taking the crew hostage, firing a bullet that grazed the co-pilot's face and demanding to be flown off the island, witnesses and police said Monday.
After eight hours of fruitless negotiations, soldiers stormed the plane and arrested the man without further injury, but authorities were deeply embarrassed about the security breach at Montego Bay's airport, a major Caribbean tourist hub.
"There was quite clearly a breach of security at the airport, and I've asked for an investigation to be done immediately," said Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who arrived on the scene overnight to oversee talks with the hijacker.
The gunman was identified as Stephen Fray, a 20-year-old Jamaican described by police as "mentally challenged." Showing the gun, he forced his way past several security checkpoints. At least two people chased him, but failed to stop him from reaching the tarmac and boarding CanJet Airlines Flight 918 about 10:20 p.m. local time Sunday.
Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz told The Associated Press that Fray demanded to be flown to Cuba. The flight's next stop was Santa Clara, Cuba. But witnesses said the gunman wanted to reach America.
"He said `You are not going to stop me. I'm going to the U.S.," Jacques Poulin, a passenger from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, told The Toronto Star. "There were two people chasing him but he managed to get into the plane."
Flight attendant Heidi Tofflemire was greeting passengers as they boarded the plane when she noticed the hijacker's weapon, according to her mother, said Karen Tofflemire, speaking from Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia.
"She said, 'What is that?' And he said, 'Never you mind. I'll take care of it.' He barged past her. So she went in to tell the pilot," Tofflemire said.
A security officer got on board and approached the gunman, who became agitated and fired the gun, passenger Brenda Grenier told Canadian broadcaster CTV Newsnet.
"That's when we all got very, very scared and people were crying and praying and we were just really frightened for all of our lives. There were children on the plane," Grenier said.
The co-pilot also had tried to talk Fray into surrendering, and was lightly injured, Poulin said. "I don't know what he said but the man shot into the loading ramp and the bullet grazed the co-pilot's face," Poulin said.
Several passengers said they hurriedly left cash in bag for the hijacker, hoping it would secure their freedom.
A short while later, he released two crew members and all 159 passengers who had come on board _ all of them Canadians, including several groups who planned to attend weddings in Cuba as part of a Canadian travel package.
Six other crew members were held at gunpoint until 6:40 a.m., when a unit from the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group stormed aboard.
A spokeswoman for Sangster International Airport, Elizabeth Scotton, declined to address questions about the airport's security, saying the investigation is a police matter. The airport serves many resort communities in Jamaica's northwest, where the economy depends heavily on tourism.
Fray, who was in custody Monday, is a "mentally challenged" man of about 20 who was also apparently upset over a failed relationship, Vaz said. His father and two brothers aided the hostage negotiators before the talks broke down.
An employee at the minimart operated by Fray's family in Montego Bay, Val Bailey, said he was surprised to hear he was involved in the hijacking. "The guy never caused trouble, nothing like that," he said.
CanJet Airlines said 174 passengers were expected on the flight, but some apparently were not aboard by the time of the attempted hijacking.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in Jamaica for a one-day visit, called Golding and "congratulated him for the successful resolution," Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said.
Golding also addressed all the passengers after they were debriefed by police, according to the police statement.
"It's a most unfortunate situation, but I can say the passengers are happy to be alive," Vaz said. "This whole experience has been very traumatic for them."
The passengers were taken to a hotel, Vaz said. CanJet planned to fly another aircraft to Montego Bay to return the passengers to Canada, said Kent Woodside, a company vice president.
The charter airline is owned by Halifax-based IMP Group Ltd., according to CanJet's Web site.
Associated Press writers Mike Melia in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
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