By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
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After that first 72-hour stretch, Hennessey and the other crew members were given eight hours off. "We were able to shower, get something to eat, and a couple of hours of sleep in a hotel," he says. "Then we were right back on the plane." But instead of ferrying religious pilgrims, the plane was sent to Brazzaville, Congo, to pick up refugees who had streamed across the border from neighboring Kinshasa, Zaire. At the time of the flight -- early May -- the civil war in Zaire was still raging, and Mali nationals who had been working in Zaire were forced to flee. The crew was told that the Congo government was threatening to kill the refugees if they were not immediately removed.
The crew landed in Brazzaville in the middle of a terrible storm, Hennessey remembers, but bad weather was the least of their concerns. "You could hear shooting all around the plane," he says. "We loaded 800 passengers on a plane that is supposed to carry 403 people. Even though it was an emergency -- and I certainly don't want to see anybody killed -- they put all of our lives in danger. Besides, this was not the reason we were hired. We were told we were only doing the haj."
Working conditions continued to deteriorate after the evacuation flight, Hennessey says. At one point, he recalls, the flight attendants spent six days nonstop on the plane: "We were flying like dogs." Only occasionally would they be given their $50 per diem. And even though they had been promised $2500 at the outset, two weeks passed before they were given just $500 toward their salary. In addition, they discovered they had to pay for their own food. "We didn't think complaining would do any good," Hennessey says. "All I wanted to do was get through the 30 days and get home."
On May 19, Hennessey says, Mamadou Jaye announced that the crew would be going back to Brazzaville to pick up more refugees. Engine problems, however, forced the crew to lay over in Dakar, Senegal. "They took us to a hotel," he recalls. "Each of the pilots were given their own room, Mamadou Jaye was given a three-bedroom suite, but the flight attendants were told they would have to share rooms." After a month of hellish conditions, Hennessey says, this relatively minor inconvenience was more than he could take.
"I just started yelling at Mamadou Jaye," he says. "I told him he was a liar, that he had reneged on every single promise he ever made. I was screaming at him."
Two other flight attendants -- another American and a Canadian -- chimed in with their support. Mamadou Jaye responded by telling them to pack their bags; he was sending them home. "We were thrilled!" Hennessey recounts. The trio was taken by Sissoko's private jet from Senegal to Banjul, Gambia, where an Air Dabia representative boarded the plane and gave each of them the remainder of their salary -- $2000 -- plus an additional $1000 he said was a gift from Sissoko for all the trouble they had endured. The payment was made in cash -- U.S. hundred-dollar bills. Sissoko's jet then took them to Bamako, Mali, where they were told to check into a specific hotel and await the delivery of airline tickets to the United States.
Instead of plane tickets home, they were greeted at the hotel by yet another Air Dabia employee, who announced that the three flight attendants were thieves and that they had stolen the $1000 bonus. He demanded they each return $1000 of the $3000 they had been given and declared that Mamadou Jaye would have them thrown in jail if they didn't comply.
Despite the threat, they refused, and the man left. Hennessey says he and his colleagues were very scared, so they checked into a different hotel and registered in one room under an Arabic name. "We were afraid they would find us if we used our own names," Hennessey explains. They also went to the airport and bought their own outbound tickets. As a final precaution they called the American embassy to let officials know where they were staying.
The next morning they were startled by a loud banging on their hotel door. Air Dabia executives had contacted local police and Interpol to track them down. By this time Mamadou Jaye had flown in from Senegal and accompanied the police as they entered the hotel room. As police and Air Dabia officials poured in, Hennessey ran to the phone and called the embassy. He was told to stall until an American diplomat could arrive. The police informed the attendants they were under arrest and ordered them to gather their belongings. "We did it as slowly as possible," Hennessey says, "hoping help from the embassy would arrive."
The embassy staffer who arrived a few minutes later recalls the scene as being chaotic. "When I got there, the room was filled with people, and everyone was screaming and yelling," says the official, who asked that her name not be used. "The three flight attendants were really frightened. It was a very tense situation."