Mumbai, Sept. 9: A knife-wielding man, possibly drunk on liquor offered on board an Air Seychelles flight which took off from Mumbai early today, made an abortive mid-air bid to enter the cockpit, fanning reports of a hijack attempt.
Mumbai airport sources said the man, identified as Sashi Raj from Chennai, holds an Indian passport and may have been accompanied by two or three others.
The man was soon overpowered by the cabin crew of the Boeing 737, carrying 64 passengers on their way to the tourist hotspot of Seychelles.
Preliminary reports said the hijacker was armed with a seven-inch-long knife, sparking concern as the incident came just two days before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US.
The plane, however, landed safely at its scheduled stopover at Male, where the “hijacker’’, along with an acquaintance who seems to have remained passive throughout the short-lived drama, was handed over to Maldivian police.
Two other passengers were reported to have been detained at Male on suspicion of accompanying the hijackers. The Air Seychelles flight resumed its journey to Seychelles.
Barring a flight attendant who was injured in the melee, the passengers and the rest of the crew came out of the flight unharmed.
There was no demand from the would-be “hijackers” nor was there any information about the motive. Pilots manning the flight did not flash a hijack alert to air traffic control in Mumbai or elsewhere.
The “hijack” bid ended so abruptly that most passengers came to know about the incident only after the pilot made an announcement at Male, saying the ordeal was “over’’.
There were suggestions that things went out of control only after the main accused misbehaved with one of the air hostesses, forcing some of the male cabin crew to intervene. It was at this point that the man whipped out a knife and tried to force his way into the cockpit.
“The man was drunk. The crew restrained him when he tried to misbehave with an air hostess,” T. Sawant, a police official, told Reuters.
Mumbai airport officials passed off the incident as a “minor problem”, but they were hard put to explain how the “hijacker” managed to slip a knife past the “stringent” security check-points.
Soon after the incident, a meeting of the CISF top brass was called to discuss the lapse. Officials belonging to the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security also called an emergency meeting to pinpoint where the lapse occurred and how.
In Delhi, civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said investigations were on to establish the motive and the identity of the culprits and also if there was any security blunder on the part of the Indian airport officials.