A 44-year-old former drug addict and alcoholic who now works as a minister was the sole person responsible for the brief hijacking Wednesday of a commercial jetliner, a Mexican official said.
The suspect, Josmar Flores Pereira, told authorities he hijacked the jet on Wednesday because the date — September 9, 2009, or 9/9/9 and 666 reversed — held some significance for him, said Genaro Garcia Luna, the secretary for public safety. “He said that because of that divine reference, he wanted to alert Mexico City of an earthquake,” Garcia told reporters. He added Flores had been convicted of armed robbery in his native country of Bolivia, had lived in Mexico for 17 years and had gone to Cancun from Mexico City the week before to attend a religious meeting. Flanked by two police officers, the suspect was paraded in front of the news media wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. Chewing gum, he smiled. “Christ is coming soon,” he told reporters before being escorted off. He said that he had attached colored lights to a can and that there had been no bomb. The suspect, a passenger aboard the Boeing 737-800 AeroMexico jet as it flew from the resort town of Cancun, told a flight attendant he was one of three hijackers, Garcia said. He threatened to blow up the plane if his demand to speak to President Felipe Calderon was not met, Garcia said. The plane was carrying 104 passengers and seven crew members, AeroMexico said in a statement. “Thanks to the expertise of the crew who acted with sensitivity, responsibility and strict adherence to the airline’s procedures manual that is in place for these types of potential situations, passengers were unaware of the incident until after landing at Mexico City International Airport,” the statement said. A U.S. law enforcement official familiar with the situation said preliminary information indicated the passengers were from Mexico, the United States and France. The incident began at 1:40 p.m. (2:40 p.m. ET), as Flight 576 arrived from Cancun, and ended more than an hour later, slightly before 3 p.m. Read timeline of events Calderon was in the presidential hangar in the airport preparing to depart when the incident began, leading him to cancel his planned flight, said CNN affiliate TV Azteca. Watch CNN’s Rick Sanchez report on the hijacking as it unfolded The event apparently went unnoticed by many of those aboard the plane, which landed five minutes ahead of schedule and was ordered to move to a remote area of the airport. Pamela Cheatham, who said she was on the flight en route to Colorado, told CNN that nothing appeared amiss until the plane didn’t go directly to the terminal. Instead, the pilot announced that, for security purposes, the plane was gong to have to sit on the tarmac for a few minutes, she said. “But when we saw the SWAT team and guys with the guns on both sides of the airline, we knew something was up,” she said. Women and children were ordered to walk down a mobile stairway on to the tarmac first, she said. Video showed the passengers clutching their hand luggage and walking unhurriedly from the plane and down the stairway, where they got into buses and were taken to a hangar. Watch AeroMexico passengers being released More than a dozen men were ordered to remain in the plane while security forces entered. Soon after, the suspect and several other people were taken into custody. Garcia said the other people who were detained turned out not to be involved. “The flight was very tranquil,” said Marisa Lopez, a passenger who was seated in Row 24 with her baby. She said the only thing that caught her attention was the large number of emergency vehicles that were lined up along the tarmac when they arrived, five minutes ahead of schedule. “Really, it was all very peaceful,” she said. “We saw nothing.” But others were more aware of what was going on. “It was very difficult, but the pilot told us to remain calm,” said another female passenger, who added that many of the passengers were families returning from vacation in Cancun. The woman said the hijacker never spoke to them during the 45 minutes they sat on the ground waiting to deplane. “We were scared,” said another woman. “But it seemed like things got under control when we came down. We were immediately surrounded when we landed by federal police.” Flores’ wife, speaking with CNN by telephone from their home in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, said her husband had been looking for a way to get his message about God to the news media. “He never wanted to hurt anyone,” said Elisa Melgar, 38, the mother of their three sons and his wife of 18 years. “As his wife, I support him,” she said, adding that her husband had not touched alcohol or drugs for the past 17 years. “He’s a man who was transformed by the power of God.” A video posted on YouTube shows the suspect singing that God had saved him from a life of drug addiction.