Virgin Australia Airlines reported a flight emergency after a male passenger attempted to gain access to the cockpit of a Brisbane-Bali flight on 25 April.
The intoxicated and aggressive passenger banged on the door of the cockpit but did not enter, according to the airline. Crew members seized the passenger, who authorities have identified as a 28-year-old Australian, and handcuffed him. He was arrested when the aircraft landed in Bali and is being interrogated by the police.
In the wake of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, the incident on board the Virgin Australian aircraft has sparked media reports and concerns of a hijack situation. However, no passengers or crew were harmed and airport operations returned to normal shortly after the B-737-800 landed. Operations at Ngurah Rai International Airport were disrupted for about an hour with some flights being diverted to enable Indonesian security forces to prepare and deploy.
Ben Vogel and Ken Chotiner
Shortly after the flight landed, a Virgin Australian spokesperson claimed that the incident was a medical emergency and not an attempted hijacking. They also clearly stated that the Indonesian Air Force erred on the side of caution in claiming that the flight had been hijacked.
Medical emergencies are fairly common on flights and flight personnel are trained in procedures to mitigate such instances. However, a distressed passenger attempting to reach the cockpit is a situation out of the ordinary. The fact that the air crew, however, was in contact with the authorities shows that the situation, while out of the usual circumstances, was able to be safely handled by aviation safety protocols.
Concern that the B-737-800 had been hijacked proved to be unfounded, but this incident follows the as-yet unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and two hijack events.
On 7 February, an apparently intoxicated man attempted to hijack Pegasus Airlines Flight 751 en route to Istanbul from Kharkiv from Kharkiv. The man claimed he had a bomb and demanded that the aircraft be diverted to Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics were being held. The pilots instead landed at Istanbul under escort from two Turkish F-16 fighter jets. The man was arrested and detained by police in Istanbul. On 17 February, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 was hijacked by its co-pilot over Sudan on its way from Addis Ababa to Rome. The B-767-300 was diverted to Geneva, where the hijacker was arrested.