A RETIRED army officer was safely back home in Malvern this week after surviving a terrifying hijack ordeal in South America.

Retired Lt Col Barrie Burke was with three friends travelling on a Trans Guyana Airways flight from Lethem to Georgetown when four men travelling on the Cessna Caravan 12-seater plane suddenly produced guns.

The men bound passengers up with tape and ordered the pilot to fly to a remote farm.

Lt Col Burke's holiday ordeal lasted some two-and-a-half hours before his captors had a change of heart and let the pilot fly them back to Lethem.

Even then the drama continued as a Brazilian airforce plane appeared alongside them after being scrambled to respond to the incident.

"Five minutes after take off I was looking out of the window at a house we'd been to for dinner the night before," explained the 66-year-old from Albert Park Road.

"There was one woman on board. The first I knew about it was when she screamed and four guys on board had pulled pistols out. Two at the front and two at the back.

"One guy spoke. He was obviously the leader and he said 'we're taking over the plane'. He said no more than that and we were rather roughly searched for weapons and mobile phones and then taped with masking tape."

The passengers were ordered to look down and the plane was taken down to just 400 feet as the pilot was given GPS grid co-ordinates.

The father of four, who has lived in Malvern for 19 years, feared for his life and said he thought they would either be dumped in a field and left to die or shot.

When they landed at the farm three hijackers got off while the engine was left running. He said they returned "bootfaced" and the plane then took off again, circling the area as if looking for another farm.

Bizarrely the plane landed back at the farm, the 'hostages' were herded off and the leader spoke to them in broken English.

"He said, me and my gang are wanted by the Brazil police and they will come and get us and they will kill us," recounted Lt Col Burke.

"He then said they were not murderers and they were letting us go."

The hijackers removed their bags and the pilot flew the passengers safely back to Lethen.

Rt Lt Col Burke added: "We have talked among ourselves since and I think without exception everybody feared the worst when we were on the plane, and when we were told we could go some of us thought we were going to be shot in the back as we walked away."

His wife Pat said: "It's good to get him back safe and well."

The alleged hijack leader, a Uruguayan called Robert Golfarin Falero Mederos, has since been arrested by Brazilian civil police.