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Template:Ethiopian name Template:Infobox aviator Captain Leul Abate (Ge'ez: ልኡል አባተ; born 1954) is an Ethiopian pilot who piloted Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, which was hijacked on 23 November 1996, fifteen minutes out from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum in Australia. The plane crashed in the Indian Ocean near The Comoros after running out of fuel, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board.
Leul observed that, "[The hijackers] knew they wouldn't make it to Australia—they just wanted us to crash. They should be dead. The way they were talking they didn't want to live."
Four hours later, the plane was nearly out of fuel as it approached the Comoros islands. Leul's co-pilot, Yonas Mekuria, had been attacked with an axe. The communications system in the airplane had been disabled. The hijackers ignored his plea to land at the Comoros's Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, and instead, one of them, drinking a bottle of whisky, decided to fly the plane himself.
When the plane ran out of fuel, both engines failed. Leul and Yonas Mekuria, bleeding and bruised, fought with the hijackers. Leul used a ram air turbine to preserve the aircraft's most essential functions, but in this mode some hydraulic systems—such as the flaps—were inoperative. This forced Leul to land at more than 175 knots (320 kilometres per hour).
Still fighting with the hijackers, Abate tried to ditch the aircraft in shallow waters 500 metres off Le Galawa Beach Hotel near Mitsamiouli at the northern end of Grande Comore island; however, at the last moment, one of the hijackers grabbed the controls. The left engine and wingtip struck the water first, causing the aircraft to break up. Island residents and tourists, including a group of scuba divers and some French doctors on holiday, came to the aid of crash survivors.
125 of the 175 passengers and crew members, including the three hijackers were killed. Both pilots survived the crash and Leul continues to fly for Ethiopian Airlines. However it is worth noting that most of the passengers died as they inflated their life vests before exiting the plane and were unable to get out when the plane ditched.Template:Fix/category
Leul considers Yonas the real hero. The co-pilot fought the hijackers while he himself was bruised and bleeding, giving time for Leul to land the airplane. "He was a life-saver", Leul said.
Leul had been in two previous hijackings. The first, was on 12 April 1992 on Flight ETH574, a Boeing 727-260. Two hijackers with hand grenades entered the cockpit. Leul was forced to fly to Nairobi. The second was on 17 March 1995, flying a Boeing 737-260. The hijackers held a hostess hostage, entered the cockpit and told Leul to fly to Sweden. In both cases, Leul had landed safely and no one was hurt.