False hijack alarm onboard Saudi plane causes security scare in Philippines
MANILA // A pilot of a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane accidentally pressed a hijack alarm, triggering a major security response at Manila airport on Tuesday, authorities said.
Police isolated and surrounded the Saudia plane after it landed on Tuesday afternoon after one of its pilots released a distress signal indicating a hijack incident was under way, the Philippine aviation authority said.
Hundreds of passengers aboard the Boeing 777 flight from the Red Sea city of Jeddah were forced to remain on the plane for more than two hours, but were let off about 5.00pm Manila time after it was confirmed there was no threat.
“Situation is normal. It was alleged that the pilot pressed the emergency light of the aircraft unintentionally,” Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said.
In Saudi Arabia, an airline spokesman also said there was no security threat.
“False alarm for hijack for Flight 872,” the spokesman said.
Manila airport manager Eddie Monreal said the flight made the distress call about 32 kilometers from the airport. Airport authorities asked for a verification of the emergency message and the flight crew confirmed the distress call, he said. However, the captain later told the control tower that a button indicating a hijacking was in progress had been pushed accidentally. Despite the assurance, airport authorities quickly convened a crisis committee, Monreal said.
“We can never play around with safety and security,” Mr Monreal said. “We decided that we will not take that call hook, line and sinker saying that it was a mistake.”
There were 410 passengers on board, plus four pilots and 17 crew members, Mr Monreal said.
Many of them were returning from the annual Islamic pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
One of the passengers, Aida Majud, said they were not told why they were being kept on the plane.
“When we saw the armed men we thought, what’s the problem. We wanted to know what was happening,” Ms Majud told ABS-CBN television network.
But she said the atmosphere was calm, with some speculating president Rodrigo Duterte had come to the airport to welcome back the pilgrims and that the armed men surrounding the plane were his security personnel.
Ms Majud said passengers had to undergo body checks after getting off the plane to ensure no one was carrying weapons.
The aviation authority said the distress signal pressed by the pilot alerted authorities “that a hijacking incident is on progress on board”.
“Apparently the pilot committed an error activating the 7500 squawking signal,” the authority said, referring to the hijack alarm.
It said an investigation would still be needed to confirm why the distress signal was pressed.
“Appropriate penalties and sanctions will be imposed on the erring pilot if the result is indeed a human error,” it said.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM