On Wednesday, May 31 two men from Bass Coast, Fabio Contu of Cape Paterson and Troy Joyner of Woolamai, boarded flight MH128.
Fabio (Fab) and Troy are good friends who have been surfing together since teenagers. They were heading off on another surfing holiday together.
Shortly after take-off MH128 became involved in a bomb threat. While the threat has been uncovered as a hoax, at the time it was legitimate to the passengers and crew on board.
The lights were dimmed for take-off and passengers were settling in for the night flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur. Troy explained that approximately 10 minutes into the ascent, a male steward pointed his torch at a man, telling him to sit down. The passenger did not sit, and the steward approached the man, reinforcing ‘you need to sit down’.
“The man standing up started running towards the front of the plan, it looked like he was carrying something. He said he had a bomb and he is taking it to the pilot,” Troy said.
“We sat stunned with what we had just heard. I looked up the isle to see what was happening and I noticed the male steward on the phone trying to call the pilot – I could see panic was starting to set in. I could hear the cabin crew talking in a different language with panic in their voice.”
“Fab and I, and I imagine the rest of the passengers, were starting to feel nervous and scared that there was a bomb on the plane, and the man was going to blow us up. A minute later, the man came running back towards us. Fab and I knew it was serious; we both feared for our lives,” Tory explained.
“At that point a mature female stewardess told the bomber to stop and put herself in the aisle, blocking his pathway. As he approached she yelled out ‘help’. We didn’t need any more instruction, Fab and I jumped out of our seats.”
“The man ran into the stewardess, I grabbed him by the neck and put him in choker hold. Fab was right behind me and grabbed the passenger around the torso.”
Other passengers were supporting Troy and Fab by providing instruction and encouragement, such as instructing them to “keep the man’s hands away from his body”.
Fabio was holding the guy with his right arm and could feel that there was something hard and plastic under his shirt, so he used my left arm to lift the man shirt up.
“I saw a black device about 40cm round and 6 inches high. I ripped it off the offender and passed it to a nearby passenger, then I checked his hands to make sure he wasn’t holding a trigger mechanism – they were empty,” Fabio said.
By this time other passengers and crew had hold of the man’s legs. They put the offender on the ground chest down, and Fabio secured the man’s arms behind his back with cable ties supplied by the crew. Another passenger secured his feet. Then the man was cable tied to the frame of the seat where he lay on the floor, occasionally moaning and yelling obscenities.
“Watching on, all I could think about was that I may never see my wife and two boys again. We thought we were going to die,” Troy said.
“We didn’t have time to think. We didn’t need to talk to each other. We just did what we had to do,” Fabio explained.
During this time the pilot had arranged an emergency landing back at Melbourne and turned the plane around.
“Before we knew it we were putting our seatbelts on ready for landing,” said Troy.
Once they landed the passengers spent 90 minutes on board, waiting with the offender and what they believed was a bomb.
“We sat waiting with very little information from the crew, and none from the authorities,” said Troy.
Both Fabio and Troy feel there could have been a way to make the situation less distressing once the plan had landed.
“Ninety minutes is a very long time to wait when you are fearing for your life. As a passenger sitting on a plane with what we thought was a bomb, this wait time was excruciatingly unsettling. There were lots of children on the plane who would have been terrified,” said Troy.
“As a father I really felt for these kids and I was angry that they had to go through all of this. I wish they could have been evacuated earlier so they didn’t have to wait with what we believed was a bomb on board and walk past this guy as they walked to the bathroom.”
Troy and Fabio would like to acknowledge how overwhelmed they have been with the gratitude shown by passengers, who were quick to give hugs and thanks yous once they had safety disembarked. They do not see themselves as heroes, just blokes doing what needed to be done.
“We are thrilled with the outcome, and that we are all safe. Although we have since learned it was a hoax, the trauma and stress is very real for all of those who were on board,” Troy and Fabio said.
“Now we just want to go surfing. Also, the steward who put her life on the line and told us to help needs a pay rise.”
Contributed with thanks by Nina Barry-Macaulay.