Shirley Macklin would easily qualify as the Canadian candidate for Most Terrifying Millennium Experience. Just hours before the year 2000 began in Afghanistan, she and 154 other hostages were finally freed by killer terrorists who had held them for eight tense days on a fetid plane. But Macklin, a 60-year-old retired Winnipeg set designer, seemed relatively unfazed by the ordeal. She told reporters she would continue working with an aid group in India, a country she has grown to love, and felt no need to return home. But she was angry. “It was a bitch of a time,” she told Canadian officials on arrival in New Delhi. And she added, to her son Hartley back in Winnipeg, that her captors were “bastards.” Macklin’s horrific odyssey began high over the mountains of northern India. After a vacation in Nepal, she had just left the capital, Kathmandu, bound for New
Delhi aboard Indian Airlines Flight 814. From her 9C seat, she suddenly saw a masked guerrilla, one of five armed with grenades and guns, burst into the cabin from business class, upending the food carts and ordering everyone to “keep your heads down.” They brutally stabbed to death one man who defied them, and ordered the pilot to fly to Lahore, Pakistan. When officials there refused it permission to land, the plane shuttled through three cities in the Gulf region be-
fore finally touching down in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, on Christmas Day.
Macklin, it turned out, was caught up in India’s often deadly dispute with Pakistan over control of divided Kashmir. The hijackers, whose nationality was never disclosed, demanded the release of 35 Kashmiri militants and a Pakistani religious cleric from jail in India. After drawn-out talks with Indian officials, brokered by Afghanistan’s ultra-conservative Islamic Taliban regime, the two sides agreed on release of the cleric and two militants. Indian officials accused Pakistan of backing the terrorists, but the military regime in Islamabad said it would arrest them if found. Macklin, meanwhile, was greeted in New Delhi by another son, David, a Toronto doctor, who arranged for a secure and quiet place for her to recover.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.