New Delhi, Sept. 20: Pleased aviation officials today said a mock hijack drill at the Indira Gandhi airport went off without a hitch. But nobody was willing to provide any details of the exercise.
“We wanted to check the preparedness of the security apparatus and the airline crew,” civil aviation secretary K. Roy Paul said.
He added that top officials knew about the drill, but care had been taken not to let lower-level staff know.
“We cannot alert all concerned when we are carrying out an exercise to test the alertness of the entire system,” Roy Paul said.
Senior civil aviation officials refused to say how the various agencies involved in the drill fared.
“We will certainly not share our findings with the press,” one official said. “Overall, we are pleased and believe we are better prepared to deal with hijacking than we were before,” he added.
An Alliance Air flight CD 7469 was heading back to Delhi from Nagpur via Raipur when the pilot was informed soon after take-off that the Airbus 320 had been hijacked. The pilot immediately alerted the air traffic control towers at Nagpur, Raipur and Delhi.
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security which conducted the exercise soon told the pilot as well as passengers that they were testing out the system and checking on the alertness of airport staff and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which is in charge of airport security in all major cities.
Only the National Security Guard, the elite force which moves in to storm a plane during a hijack, was not informed. “No, my boys were not part of the exercise,” NSG boss Musharry said.
“It was more of a test of the security drill at the airport, the scope was limited,” he added.
When the Alliance Air plane landed at 12.03 pm at Delhi’s domestic terminal, air traffic controllers asked the pilot to move the aircraft to an isolated bay. Emergency services were put on alert with fire engines, ambulance and doctors in place. Crack CISF commandos quickly encircled the aircraft.
The passengers, six crew members and two pilots were later off-loaded and taken to the arrival terminal after the 45-minute drill drew to a close.
Civil aviation security officials said it had conducted several such tests to ensure that those involved respond quickly in case there is an actual hijack. December 24, 1999 was the last time an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked, soon after take off from Kathmandu.
The flight was taken first to Amritsar, but was taken Kandahar in Afghanistan, which was then ruled by the Taliban. The passengers were released after a week in exchange for three top militants. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was criticised for its inability to deploy commandos and take decisive action at Amritsar to prevent the plane from leaving Indian airspace.