Dozens of Canadians who were among 159 passengers held hostage aboard a plane in Jamaica have arrived back home, while others are forging ahead with their vacations.

Roughly 40 people who endured the tense hijacking arrived back in Halifax late Monday night, where a crowd of anxious relatives stood waiting.

"It was terrible. It was horrifying. The man had a gun and wanted to kill people," said passenger Brenda Grenier, still visibly shaken by the ordeal.

She was with her young daughter at the time of the hijacking and said all of the passengers were "very scared."

Crew members also returned to Halifax, in a separate chartered plane, but did not speak to reporters.

In total, 167 people -- including eight crew members -- had been held hostage by a gunman aboard CanJet Flight 918, as it waited on the tarmac near the resort city of Montego Bay.

Witnesses say a flight attendant asked the gunman if he would free the passengers in exchange for their money, and he agreed.

The passengers and two crew members were released within about 50 minutes, but the gunman kept another six crew members hostage for another eight hours, until a police tactical team stormed the aircraft.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who coincidently was also in Jamaica on Monday, praised Jamaican security forces during a historic speech to the country's parliament.

"We are tremendously grateful for the outcome of today's events," he said. "What could have been a terrible tragedy I think turned into a tremendous triumph for the professionalism and competence of the Jamaican security forces."

Harper's speech marked the first time a Canadian prime minister had addressed a joint session of the Jamaican parliament, and the event had been scheduled long before the tense eight-hour standoff.

Earlier in the day, Harper was in Montego Bay, speaking at a joint news conference with Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, after the man suspected of hijacking the Canadian plane surrendered.

"Today is a testament to the personal bravery of all those involved and the close co-operation between friends that has allowed us to save lives and even more importantly escape this without any injury at all," Harper said.

He commended the Jamaican officials for their co-operation and thanked Golding for taking a personal role in helping end the standoff -- noting that Golding spent the night at the airport.

"Today is a day to be truly joyful. It's very rare we have events like this that end so well," Harper said.

Here is a list of the crew members on the flight:

  • Pilots: Capt. James Murphy of Halifax and 1st Officer Glenn Johnson of Montreal.
  • Flight attendants: Nicole Rogers and Heidi Tofflemire of Halifax, Anu Goswami, Tony Bettencourt and Carolina Santizo Arriola, all from Toronto.
  • The security officer is listed as Gary Knickle of Halifax.

Golding also congratulated the crew of the plane and offered a gift to them and the passengers, saying it was on behalf of all Jamaicans.

"In recognition of the trauma to which they were subjected we're inviting them all to spend a week's holiday at any time they are prepared, in Jamaica," Golding said.

Many of the passengers were en route to Cuba when the plane was hijacked. There were four different wedding parties on the plane.

Golding also pledged to carry out a full investigation into how the suspect, identified as Stephen Fray, a Jamaican man in his 20s, was able to get through security with a firearm.

Details of standoff

The flight operated for Transat Tours Canada had taken off from Halifax, N.S. at 7:15 p.m. Sunday night, then landed at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, en route to Santa Clara.

The gunman boarded the plane shortly after 10 p.m., firing one shot in the process, according to unconfirmed reports.

A crew member eventually convinced him to free the passengers in exchange for cash, and they were let go along with two crew members.

Six crew members were kept on the plane, said Woodside. The airport had been under lockdown but was re-opened Monday morning.

Karl Angell, from the Jamaican Constabulary Force, said that hostage negotiators quickly sprung into action when news first broke of the incident.

"As you can imagine, the negotiation (was) a very tedious and very personal process," Angell told CTV Newsnet in a telephone interview from Montego Bay.

He added that negotiators "quickly checked the backbone of this individual" and asked him what his demands were over the aircraft's intercom system.

"When we realized we were at a stalemate, we brought in family members: his father, his sister," said Angell.

Later, friends were also brought into the discussion to try and coax the suspect out of the plane.

However, Angell said the hijacker was "unwilling to listen" to police.

"That's when the team went in (and) unarmed him ... without firing a shot" he said, adding that the suspect is currently being questioned by police detectives.

When asked how the man outmaneuvered security guards, Angel said: "It is a matter that is under full and total investigation, because we are as concerned as the rest of the world that he was able to breach the security protocols at the airport."

Eyewitness accounts

Brenda Grenier, a passenger who was freed from the plane, described the terrifying ordeal. She said that gunman came on the plane and demanded to be flown to the U.S. but was told there was no fuel to do so.

"He had the gun to the pilot's head, even, and we all freaked out and everybody started screaming and everyone huddled down into their seat because you don't want to look at him."

"When we saw the gun and when it went off I held my daughter's hand and I said 'I don't want to go this way, I love you.'"

Grenier said the man said his name was Rico.

Daryl Vaz, Jamaica's information minister, told Canada AM the suspected gunman is a young Jamaican man with "mental problems."

Sangster airport is one of the most modern in the Caribbean and handles more than three million passengers a year.