THE NATIONAL Investigation Agency (NIA) is set to probe a fake hijack threat by a Mumbai-based businessman, which forced a Delhi-bound Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to be diverted to Ahmedabad in the early hours of Monday. The threat was conveyed in a note found inside a toilet onboard, said police. The agency has sent a team to Ahmedabad where the flight made an emergency landing. The businessman, 37-year-old Birju Kishore Salla, is currently under detention with the Ahmedabad crime branch. Salla told police that he “made up the hijacking note to defame the airline” and “seek revenge” against a female crew member who had “spurned” him.
Official sources in Mumbai said that a case has been registered against Salla under sections 3(b), for forcefully seizing control of an aircraft, and 4(b), mandating life imprisonment, of the Anti Hijacking Act, 1982. They said that charges under the Act brings the case under the ambit of the NIA.
According to Gujarat police, four other persons are being questioned along with Salla, who hails from Dedan village in the Khambha taluka of Amreli district in Gujarat.
According to Manoj Gangal, director of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International (SVPI) airport in Ahmedabad, the pilot of Jet Airways flight 9W339 communicated at 3.34 am about the possible presence of hijackers and explosives onboard.
According to police, the pilot was informed by a crew member of a note found in one of the toilets, written in English and Urdu and claiming that at least 12 passengers were hijackers, and that there was an “explosive bomb” onboard. It wanted the plane to be taken to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
“The pilot wanted to make an emergency landing in Ahmedabad and the air traffic control immediately facilitated the process. The aircraft landed at 03.48 hours at Ahmedababd and the passengers and crew members were taken off the aircraft,” Gangal said. The aircraft finally left for Delhi at around 9 am, said officials.
Sources said the crew members informed police that Salla was the first person to have used the toilet from where the note was found inside the toilet-paper box. A transcript of the note said, “Flight no 9W 339 is covered by hijackers and aircraft should not land and flown straight to POK. 12 people on board, if you put landing gear, you will hear the noise of people dying. Don’t take it as a joke. Cargo area contains explosive bomb and wl blast if you land Delhi.”
Police said that after examination, it was found that the Urdu portion of the note was written using the Google Translate app.
According to police, Salla had lodged a complaint two years ago against the airline, alleging that he had found a cockroach in his food. “We are still questioning him to find the truth,” said Deepan Bhadran, DCP, Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch.
While Salla claimed that he was involved in the wholesale business of gold and diamonds, sources said he was a property dealer.
Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said, “Salla was detained by police after preliminary investigation. He was on board the flight which made an emergency landing this morning. It was revealed that Salla had put the threat letter in the plane’s washroom. We will take necessary action against him.”
A Jet Airways spokesperson said that Flight 9W339 took off from Mumbai at 2.55 am with 115 passengers and seven crew members, and landed at Ahmedabad around 3.45 am. The Boeing 737-900 plane was parked at a remote bay and all 122 onboard safely deplaned, the spokesperson said.
Officials said the hijack scare sent alarm bells ringing across the security establishment with an anti-hijacking mechanism being operationalised. While the pilot jammed the cockpit door, the CISF and NSG were put on alert. Emergency meetings were also held in the air security establishment.
The flight later took off for Delhi with two air marshals from the NSG onboard, they said.
“As the airline was parked at an isolated bay, there was no disruption of flight operations at Ahmedabad airport. We checked the luggage, spoke to passengers in length and conducted a thorough check of the plane but nothing suspicious was found. We were completely equipped to handle an emergency of this kind at the airport,” said Hemandra Singh, official spokesperson of the CISF.
Passengers on the flight described the situation as “scary”. “It was the most horrifying night of my life. The checks were intense and we were really scared. Thankfully, it was not a hijack,” said Niraj Gade, a passenger.