The photo of 26-year-old Ben Innes with Egyptian hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa, wearing what we now know was a fake suicide vest, was taken by a hostess after she was asked to translate between the pair.
The snap soon went viral after Innes, a health and safety auditor, shared it with friends on WhatsApp, bragging: “It has to be the best selfie ever”.
Andrea Banchetti, a 47-year-old from Terni who was making his way back home to Italy, via Cairo, after working in Egypt for three weeks, described the moment as “surreal”.
“In a way, it will be one of my souvenir images of what was the strangest day,” he told Corriere.
Aberdeen-based oil and gas worker Ben Innes' selfie with the EgyptAir hijacker goes viral… pic.twitter.com/qf16gAdfHw
— Radio Forth News (@RadioForthNews) March 30, 2016
Giving his reasons for having the photo taken, Innes told the British press: “I figured if his bomb was real I had nothing to lose”.
But his stunt was swiftly lambasted, with security experts saying he “risked lives” just so he could brag to his friends.
Banchetti was among the 62 passengers who took off on board the Cairo-bound jet from Alexandria early on Tuesday morning. The hijack drama unfolded soon after with Mustafa, claiming he was wearing an explosives vest, forcing the plane to divert to Larnaca, Cyprus.
The plane landed safely and all but seven people were released after negotiations with Cairo authorities, who soon revealed that the hijack was motivated by “personal reasons” and not terrorism.
Mustafa had demanded political asylum and to speak to his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus. He is also said to have made several other erratic requests, including asking to speak to EU officials. Upon surrendering, he handed over a four-page letter intended for his ex-wife.
Banchetti, who was among the last passengers and crew members to be freed after the six hour stand-off, said that a day which had begun with immense fear, ended with him feeling “a little sorry” for his hijacker.
“I will not justify what he has done but I get it, because from what I understand he seemed to have done this all for love.”
Mustafa, who had wires protruding from what looked like explosives attached to his waist, has been described as “an idiot”, “stupid”, “drunk” and “penniless”, but from Banchetti’s account, he was anything but violent.
He said he was “almost reassuring”, and kept repeating “everything will be fine, nothing will happen’, especially to a couple who were crying in terror.
“He did not seem at all dangerous – of course, you can never tell, but he didn’t seem the violent type,” Banchetti added.
“He spoke only in Arabic to the crew, so calmly that there was no panic. But obviously, we couldn’t be sure that the suicide belt was fake.”
Still, being a mechanic, Banchetti suspected the belt wasn’t real, but simply “a tangle of wires”.
“I told police when I got off the plane: the bundle looks fake to me, it’s not a bomb.”
There were also eight Americans, three other Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians and 30 Egyptians on board.