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Safe Skies

An award for outstanding achievement
in promoting the safety of air travelers

A hijacking for breakfast.

We were on the way home from Australia and had a change of planes in Los Angeles. Thus, early one morning we settled down on a Continental Boeing for an eastbound flight. When the flight attendant began making the cabin announcement, I noticed that she seemed out of breath. I said to Becky, "That girl must have run all the way to the airport."

We later learned that Continental had an emergency plan — if a hijacking was underway the cabin announcement would contain a certain phrase that sounded innocuous but which would tip off all crewmembers. The warning phrase that morning was, "All of your crew members are based in Long Beach."

Given that warning, the rule required the pilots to close the door to their compartment, tie a rope to a bulkhead and lower themselves through a window to the ground, leaving the aircraft without pilots.

Other crewmembers pulled curtains across the cabin and began quietly getting passengers out through the rear exit. Soon the hijacker, a disgruntled airline employee with a gun, was left with one flight attendant and 11 passengers. The airplane was towed to a remote part of the airport, and after about 12 hours of confrontation the hijacker gave up.

Only a few months before, a gunman killed both pilots on a flight over California, and all on board died in the crash. The cool performance of the Continental crew may have saved us from a similar fate. We were particularly impressed with a flight attendant who went into the terminal to report what was going on and then returned to the airplane. Becky said, "That girl ought to get a medal." We didn't forget. After returning home we searched the web and could find no award to recognize the heroism of the flight attendant. We made some inquiries, but found nothing. Finally, we decided to do something. We launched the Safe Skies Award.

— McKinley Conway

The Conway Safe Skies Award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the safety of global air travelers. The award seeks to improve the security of the world's air transport system. Nominees include individuals associated with flight crews, passengers, ground crews, law enforcement officers, security personnel, aircraft designers, airport officials, and scientists developing explosives detection devices or other security systems. Special consideration is given to those who risked their own lives in the protection of air travelers.

Past Recipients

2005 Award
2005 Was Quiet Year for Air Terrorism Worldwide. Read the press release.

2004 Award
The award was presented to Michael Sheffer, co-founder in 1998 of the Skyrage Foundation, an organization devoted to responding to problems of violent passengers and support for flight attendants. The award was founded after Mr. Sheffer's then wife, a flight attendant, was badly injured on a U.S. Airways flight en route from Los Angeles to Baltimore by a psychotic 200 pound football player who had taken LSD before the flight.

2001 Award

2001 Safe Skies Award Presented to Families of Victims of Flight 93

Sandy Dahl with Mac Conway
Sandy Dahl, wife of United Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, met with Safe Skies Award founder McKinley Conway prior to the award ceremony.
Deena Burnett with Mac Conway
McKinley Conway presented the 2001 Safe Skies Award to Deena Burnett, wife of Tom Burnett, one of the passengers instrumental in thwarting the hijackers aboard United Flight 93.
Savannah Morning Sun reporter interviews Conway
Lanie Peterson, journalist with the Savannah Morning Star, was one of several news outlets on hand for the ceremony.

        Sandy Dahl and Deena Burnett, whose husbands were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, on United Airlines Flight 93, accepted the 10th Conway Safe Skies Award on Tuesday on behalf of the passengers and crew that gave their lives protecting America's capital city from the hijacked airliner.
        "All of the people on board that plane taught us a very valuable lesson," said McKinley Conway, founder and presenter of the award. "And that lesson is that the answer to terrorism is to fight back - whenever, wherever and whatever the cost."
        Conway, who at age 82 is still a licensed pilot, initiated the award in 1990 to honor those who defend the safety of global air travel. The award given to the surviving relatives of those killed on Flight 93 includes a donation of $10,000 to a special memorial fund.
        Burnett, who lost her husband Tom, father to their three young daughters, said that "it is my honor to accept this award on behalf of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. Each person on that plane had a task to perform, and they performed it admirably. The result of their heroic actions is that our government buildings in Washington, D.C., are still standing."
        Dahl, whose husband Jason was the pilot of Flight 93, said, "I am so grateful for people like Mr. Conway, who understand the true value of trained professionals in the air. This award is also for all the passengers, who were very intelligent and courageous people."

1999 Award
Cited for "extraordinary coolness and courage in life-or-death circumstances," Indian Airlines Capt. Devi Sharan was awarded the 1999 Safe Skies Award in Atlanta today by McKinley Conway, founder of the annual award. Capt. Sharan was cited for his efforts to maintain peace with five armed hijackers onboard the Airbus A300 during an eight-day hijacking incident that started on Dec. 24.
Michael M. Charles and Capt. Devi Sharan

        Conway, chairman of Conway Data, an Atlanta-based international publishing, economic development consulting and association management firm, said, "Capt. Sharan displayed extraordinary coolness and courage. Undoubtedly, he saved a number of lives."
        The incident began shortly after takeoff when the armed hijackers took control of Flight IC 814 as it left Katmandu, Nepal, with 178 passengers and 11 crew members. Over the next eight days, Capt. Sharan flew the aircraft while the hijackers negotiated for a $200 million ransom and the release of 36 Muslim militants.
        After refueling at Amritsar, India, the hijackers killed a passenger to force authorities to release the aircraft for takeoff. Later, despite instructions to crash the aircraft, Capt. Sharan maintained a calm demeanor with the hijackers, joked with them and gained their trust. He walked the aisles, talking with passengers and keeping them calm.
        The hijacking ended peacefully Dec. 31 when the hijackers accepted India's offer to release three Muslim rebels. After eight traumatic days with little sleep, Capt. Sharan had managed to save the lives of all but one of his passengers.

1998 Award
An elite Turkish anti-terrorism squad and Turkish Airline pilots received the 1998 Safe Skies Award for thwarting a hand-grenade-armed hijacker without injuries to any passenger or crew member. The effort terminated the hijacking at a stop in Ankara on Oct. 30.

1997 Award
On Dec. 16, 1997, a violent assault on a flight attendant occurred onboard a US Airways flight enroute from Los Angeles to Baltimore. A psychotic passenger — a 200-lb college football player who had taken LSD before the flight — was subdued by several people after seriously injuring the flight attendant. Despite the severity of the attack, the assailant did not receive jail time. This incident led to the creation of the Skyrage Foundation, an organization devoted to the problems of inflight violence and victim support. The award was presented to Michael Sheffer, co-founder, Skyrage Foundation, in Charleston, S.C., March 22, 2005.

1996 Award
Ethiopian Airlines Capt. Leul Abate and Copilot Yonas Mekuria won the 1996 Safe Skies Award for their heroic efforts in regaining control of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 and guiding it to a controlled ditching after it had been hijacked by three East Africans.

1995 Award
The Athens (Greece) Airport Police Anti-Terrorist Squad was the recipient of the 1995 award. The squad was lauded for its quick action in subduing the knife-wielding hijacker of an Olympic Airlines Boeing 747 in November 1995. Brigadier Ioannis Ergazakis, who led the successful assault, received the award on behalf of the squad.

Members of the Anti-Terror-ist Squad posed as reporters to board the plane and then quickly overpowered the hijacker.

1994 Award
The winner was the Gendarmerie Nationale Intervention Unit (GIGN) of France. The GIGN was recognized for successfully thwarting the hijacking of Air France flight 8969 by four Algerian terrorists on Dec. 26, 1994, at the airport of Marseilles, France.

The successful assault allowed the GIGN to free 172 hostages without any casualties among them. During the action, the four hijackers were killed. Thirteen persons among the passengers, three members of the aircrew and nine GIGN men were wounded.

WDC Chairman McKinley Conway presented the award to Lieutenant Fréderic Gallois and NCO Adjudant-chef Roland Martins, who represented the GIGN at the awards ceremony in Osaka.

1993 Award
The 1993 award was presented to an elite Indian police squad for successfully thwarting an attempted hijacking of an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 with 141 pas-sengers enroute from New Delhi to Srinagar, India, on April 24-25, 1993.

Recognized with a cash award were Shri K.P.S. Gill, IPS, director general of police, Punjab, India; Shri Hardip Singh Dhillon, IPS, Senior Superintendent of Police, Amritsar, India; Shri K.B.S. Sidhu, IAS, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar; Brig. B.D. Misra, NSG; Col. Chhetra Bahadur Thapa, NSG; and Shri I.D. David, pilot-in-command. Mr. Gill directed the operation.

The award was presented to Chief Gill at the World Development Council's Global Super Projects Conference in Barcelona in June 1994.

1992 Award
The award was won by Douglas P. Boyd, chairman of the board of Imatron Inc. Under his leadership, his company developed a high-speed baggage screening device for detecting explosives. This technology has contributed to improved baggage processing systems and greater passenger security.

1991 Award
The winner of the 1991 Conway Safe Skies Award was M.M. Charles, inspector of accidents in the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport for the United Kingdom's Royal Aerospace Establishment.

Mr. Charles was selected for his work in identifying an opportunity to improve aircraft structural design so that an explosion in the baggage compartment would not necessarily cause a crash. His ideas were published in his report following the investigation of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and have been adopted by several design groups.

1990 Award
The recipient of the 1990 Conway Safe Skies Award was Bert Ammerman, president of the group known as Victims of Pan Am Flight 103. The group was formed to assist the families of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie tragedy.

Mr. Ammerman and Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 were instrumental in convincing President Bush to establish the Presidential Commission on Aviation, Security and Terrorism.

The Selection Panel

The winner of the Conway Safe Skies Award is selected by a distinguished international panel representing broad corporate, scientific, aviation, civic and global travel interests.

Among those who have served on the award panel in the past are:

  • Dr. D.R. Chapman, Sr. Scientist, NASA Ames Lab (USA)
  • Brig. M.H. MacKenzie-Orr, OBE, GM (RL) (Australia), Int'l Association of Bomb Technicians & Investigators
  • Willi Hermsen (Germany), Airport Manager Munich Airport Authority
  • Graham C. Hornel (USA), Director of Communications, Pacific Asia Travel Association
  • Peeter Tammoja (Estonia), Estonian Chamber of Commerce
  • M. S. Wong (Singapore), Head, Industrial Facilities Group, Singapore Economic Development Board
  • Terence Hardeman (Singapore), Aviotech Asia Pte. Ltd.
  • Wallace Hawkes, III, P.E. (USA), Executive Vice President, Greiner, Inc.
  • James E. Sheppard (USA), Manager of Planning & Development, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority
For security reasons, we no longer list the names of current panel members.

The Award Sponsor

The sponsor of the annual Safe Skies Award is McKinley Conway, chairman of the World Development Federation and Conway Data, Inc.

Mr. Conway, an active pilot for over 50 years, is an aeronautical engineer, former NACA/NASA scientist, airport planner and publisher of Site Selection magazine. He is author of such books as Principles of High-Speed Flight and The Airport City.

Staff coordinator for this file is Laura Lyne.

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