What Really Happened When An Ex-Monk Hijacked A Plane

Plane hijackers can be strange people. Sometimes they have very legitimate concerns, but there are those whose requests are almost impossible to fulfill.

Take the case of Laurence James Downey, who hijacked Aer Lingus Flight 164 in 1981.

Downey, an Australian who was a former monk expelled for punching a superior, had been on a flight from Dublin to London's Heathrow airport. Five minutes before the flight was set to land, Downey went into the plane's toilet and doused himself in gasoline, explained RTE.

The fasten seatbelt sign had already been turned on, so flight attendants asked him to sit down. At that point, they did not know what liquid he drenched himself with, but he soon claimed it as gasoline. Downey held two vials with him, which he said was cyanide.

Downey made his way to the cockpit and demanded the pilots fly to Iran. The Journal said Downey held a lighter and threatened to burn everything down. However, the ex-monk was told there wasn't enough fuel, so he ordered them to land in France first.

Once the plane was in France, he allowed a woman with five children to leave the aircraft. There were 108 passengers in total. Downey also produced a nine-page manifesto declaring it should be published by the Irish press. In his list was something surprising: Downey demanded the Vatican release the Third Secret of Fatima.

The ex-monk wanted to know the secret

In 1917, three children reportedly saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The apparition, which we now call Our Lady of Fatima, entrusted them with three secrets about apocalyptic visions.

Two of these secrets were already released by 1941, but one of the women, Sister Lucia of Fatima, chose not to disclose the third secret until her deathbed in 1943. The secret remained locked within the Vatican for years. It was the third secret that Downey insisted should be revealed before he would release more passengers from Aer Lingus Flight 164.

What happened next was a nearly ten-hour standoff between Downey and the police. As part of negotiations, an Irish newspaper, Sunday Independent of Dublin, agreed in principle to publish his manifesto. The manifesto also claimed Downey was ejected from the Trappist order, which the order confirmed afterward.

While pilots had been careful not to panic passengers, they knew it would be a sensational story. The Irish press had a field day, and Irish officials flew to the airport to help secure the release of their citizens.

Soon, a woman trapped in the plane began feeling ill. People demanded she be allowed to leave, and Downey said she could. To pick her up, the French authorities drove over an ambulance to help her. Inside were French special forces who then stormed onto the plane. They tackled and overpowered Downey and arrested him.

It turned out, Downey only poured water on himself and was not armed at all.

Then he lived a regular life

Downey was sentenced to five years in prison for his actions, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. It then turned out he was wanted for an assault in Ireland and was being questioned for fraud in his native Australia.

The Irish Examiner said Downey also entered Ireland illegally and tried to set up various businesses. He claimed the government was out to ruin his ventures. He went into hiding to avoid deportation. Increasingly angry, Downey sought to make a public spectacle. He decided on hijacking a plane.

He later confessed that he never had gasoline on him nor cyanide, just two water bottles.

As for the passengers, even after French special forces entered the plane and took on Downey, they still weren't allowed to leave the aircraft. An Irish minister went to greet them, and they waited for a photo op before they could finally find a way home.

In the end, Downey spent 16 months in prison in France for his hijacking attempt. After his stint in jail, he returned to Australia, where he apparently led a normal life. And the third secret? The Vatican released it in 2000.

With security measures now in place, it may be difficult for many to see how the ex-monk could've gotten away with what he did. And while his demands seem crazy, at least he wasn't a crazy person with access to something more dangerous than a bottle of water.