MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hailing the cool heads who helped secure the safe release of the 167 passengers and crew aboard a hijacked Canadian airliner in Jamaica.
At a hastily-called news conference Monday, Harper showered Jamaican authorities, Prime Minister Bruce Golding and the crew of CanJet Airlines Flight 918 with laurels for their handling of the hostage drama that unfolded overnight on the tarmac at an airport in Montego Bay.
"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 more importantly to escape this without any injuries at all," Harper said.
"Today is a day to be truly joyful. It's very rare that we have events like this that end so well."
The passengers and crew were destined for Cuba and on a stopover in Montego Bay when a lone gunman forced his way through security and stormed their airliner less than an hour before its scheduled departure.
The gunman, a young Jamaican described by officials as having "mental challenges," wanted to go to Cuba.
A quick-thinking flight attendant convinced him to accept cash and belongings in exchange for allowing the passengers and two crew members to leave the plane.
Seven hours later, the remaining six crew members were freed without bloodshed when a Jamaican counter-terrorism squad stormed the cabin.
Harper praised his Jamaican counterpart, Bruce Golding, who spent the night at the airport helping to negotiate the release of the six. "It's really been quite a performance, one of which you should all be really proud."
Harper, who happened to be in Jamaica to speak to a joint session of the country's Parliament, was visibly moved as he hailed the flight crew as heroes.
"It's simply a day of great gratitude," he said. "We're delighted at how this has turned out."