Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Clemson's Clarke Bynum dies

Couldn't dig up a picture, although if I really looked I could probably find my old ACC handbook with one. I remember him, just can't remember his face.

Former Clemson player Bynum dies at 47

Former Clemson basketball standout Clarke Bynum, who once helped thwart a plane hijacking, has died, the school said Tuesday. He was 47.

Bynum died Monday after a long battle with cancer, Clemson athletic spokesman Tim Bourret said. The 6-foot-7 Bynum averaged five points and two rebounds in four seasons with the Tigers from 1980-84. He was an All-Academic selection in the Atlantic Coast Conference in his senior season.

However, Bynum may be better known for subduing a man who attacked a pilot in the cockpit of a British Airways jet in December 2000.

The passenger managed to grab the controls, sending the plane into two nosedives. But Bynum and other passengers burst into the cockpit and wrestled the man down, restraining him until the flight with 398 people on board could land.

Found some more details on this amazing episode at

Born in Sumter, S. C. in about 1955, he grew up in Trinity United Methodist Church. Almost too busy to do so, he volunteered at the last minute for a two week teaching mission trip to Uganda. Through a scheduling error, he and close friend Gifford Shaw ended 28 Dec. 2000 up in the forward first class area close to the cockpit on (a 747...398 passengers) British Airways Flight 2069 to Nairobi, Kenya. They were 35,000 feet above the Sudan desert. During the flight, a Kenyan man entered the cockpit.

Some months earlier, Sumter attorney Dicky Jones had approached Clarke Bynum & Gifford Shaw about a mission trip to Uganda. Clarke had never been on such a trip and wasn't inclined to leave his family, anyhow. But his wife, Sissy, thought it would be a great opportunity. After several days of prayer, he decided to go. Many friends said they would pray for the trip, and there was much family prayer. Clarke remembers praying on Dec. 26th, "Lord, as a result of this trip to Africa, may my life never be the same!"

They drove from Sumter to Charlotte on the 27th to catch the 21 hour flight that would cover over 21, 000 miles. Because of a storm while approaching England, They were diverted from Gatwick airport to Heathrow...then bused back to Gatwick. But the doors to their flight had closed 5 minutes prior to their hurried arrival...missed flight! They had to be reticketed onto flight 2069 to Nairobi, Kenya & then on to Uganda. Clarke: "I felt great peace about this...we'll just go with the flow." Prior to the flight, they had a few hours in a hotel room, and Clarke wrote in his journal, "Well, Lord, the adventure goes on." They had purchased business class tickets, and Clarke headed for row 61...where he would have reasonable leg room for his 6 foot 7 inch frame. The attendant said, "No, you are in the 2nd level bubble (48 seats) on the second row back from the cockpit." A family of 4 was on the first row. Clarke asked Gifford to trade seats so that he (Clarke) could switch from the window seat to the minimally less crowded aisle seat. They had supper in flight...talked some...and generally felt at peace. It was getting dark, so they decided to get some sleep.

Clarke and Gifford, both devout Jesus believers, were jolted awake by a sudden nosedive of the large plane. The front-row father looked back at Clarke and said, "I just saw a man run into the cockpit!" There were awful screams for help coming from the cockpit cabin. Scared absolutely to death and frozen, Clarke turned to Gifford, "This is it; we're going to die!!" Clarke: "My emotions and mind were razor sharp. We'd either die by the plane just coming apart or smashing into the Sudan Desert." Gifford said, "We've got to do something, now; I'm going into that cockpit!" And, from his window seat, Gifford gave Clarke a shove. Clarke: "As I bolted forward, I thought that in a matter of seconds I'd be in Heaven [I'd accepted Jesus as Lord and savior as a child]...I had thoughts of my wife and 4 children." A graduate of Wilson Hall High School and Clemson University and the first McDonalds' All American college basketball player from South Carolina, Clarke scrambled for the cockpit. He turned the door knob...sensing danger...and jerked it open to find total bedlam...two fighting on the assailant...the Kenyan having the copilot around the throat (the pilot had been on a sleep break). Clarke reached long arms over the turmoil and grabbed the extremely strong Kenyan by the shoulders and pulled back with all of his might...Gifford and one other helping as Clarke & the Kenyan fell backwards. Clarke sensed the plane pulling upward out of the near-fatal nosedive at the last second! The Kenyan was about 6 feet tall & 200 pounds and cloaked in a black hood & jacket. As he restrained the man, the hood came off; & Clarke looked into the eyes of a man who had wanted to kill them all.

After applying the handcuffs from the pilot, Clarke looked at his own wrist watch; and it was 12:10 midnight EST. Reconstruction of events determined that the cockpit break-in was at 11:53 EST & that the plane fell 19,000 feet. The difference between living and dying was calculated as between 3-5 seconds...in no more than 5 more seconds, the plane nosedive would have been irreversible. Clarke & Gifford were discussing whether or not to call home...to go on with the trip or not. The plane landed 2 hours later, and they were debriefed at about 4AM EST. Shortly, they saw the news of the event splashed on CNN; & they called home several hours later. They headed home to Sumter the next day!