Stopped from leaving the aircraft by angry passengers protesting against their delayed flight being diverted to Thiruvananthapuram from Kochi,the pilot of an Air India Express flight from Abu Dhabi triggered a hijack alarm on Friday,briefly sparking panic and tension for airport authorities and security agencies.
Flight 4422 had left Abu Dhabi behind schedule and could not land in Kochi due to poor visibility early in the morning. It was diverted to Thiruvananthapuram and landed there at 6.30 am. The crew reportedly assured the 171 passengers that the flight would take off for Kochi after refueling and once the weather there improved,officials said.
However,some passengers began to protest around 7.30 am when they were asked to deplane as the airline wanted to fly them back in a different aircraft. They insisted that they be flown back in the same aircraft with the same crew,which had to be changed,as their flight duty time limitations were over.
In her police complaint,pilot Rupali Waghmare said four passengers barged into the cockpit and demanded she fly the plane to Kochi. One of them,the father of a six-month-old child,allegedly threatened her with dire consequences if something happened to his child,causing Waghmare to press the hijack alert button.
We got the message at 8.50 am from the pilot. An alert was sounded and the aircraft was cordoned off by CISF personnel. At 9.20,the pilot informed air traffic control that the situation was under control and the passengers had been pacified. But by then we had cordoned off the aircraft, Thiruvananthapuram airport director-in-charge Rajan George told The Indian Express.
The passengers have admitted that they prevented the pilot from leaving the aircraft. Whether they entered the cockpit,as alleged by the pilot,can be ascertained through the probe, he said. Although the hijack drama ended,the passengers protested against the delay in serving them food.
The flight left for Kochi with a new crew at 2 pm. There was some trouble at the Kochi airport when the four passengers who had allegedly entered the cockpit in Thiruvananthapuram were detained by security personnel for questioning. Their fellow passengers refused to leave the airport until the four were released and they were subsequently freed.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has ordered an investigation into the incident and has asked for the cockpit voice recorder to ascertain the reason for the pilot pressing the hijack alert button. Passengers entering the cockpit was extreme but the pilot should also not have pressed the hijack button when she knew they were passengers, said a senior DGCA official.
Kerala home minister T Radhakrishnan said that while the incident will be investigated and blame fixed,the suspect passengers had not been detained as they had come from Abu Dhabi and were on their way home. The complaints of the passengers were also genuine as they were kept in the aircraft for long and apparently not even served water,he said.
But an Air India official rejected the allegation and said even though the flight landed in Thiruvananthapuram as an unscheduled diversion,the local catering officer ensured passengers got water,juice and sandwiches as soon as they arrived. He said flights to Kerala were being regularly diverted due to bad weather and two other Kochi flights on Friday were diverted. Passengers of flight 4422 had damaged some tray-tables and arm rests in the aircraft and the flight would have returned to Kochi as soon as the weather improved if not for the protest.