Somali woman charged with hijacking Air New Zealand flight
Fri, 08 Feb 2008 05:48p.m.
A 33-year-old Somali-born woman has been identified as the person responsible for this morning’s aerial drama and has been charged with hijacking – an offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The woman, who allegedly attacked two pilots mid-air, was led away by police after her actions paralysed air services around the country.
The plane with seven passengers aboard was en route from Blenheim to Christchurch when it sent out an emergency call at 7:40am.
The pilots, who were taken straight to hospital, said they had been knifed by their attacker, but they had managed to bundle her out of the cockpit and safely land the plan 26 terrifying minutes later.
“Armed offenders were there and they stormed the plane, dragged a person out of the plane, put the handcuffs on them at gunpoint and proceeded to take them away” Andrew Sarrie said. “It was like something from Lethal Weapon.“
The woman had also allegedly threatened to blow up the plane.
“Obviously because of the claims there were bombs on board, the plane was secured and the plane was secured and the airport cordoned,” Inspector Dave Cliffe said.
Police interviewed the woman, passengers and the pilots – one of whom suffered severe cuts to the hand and the other has an injured foot.
Police kept the airport shut as they and the army bomb disposal team searched the aircraft and luggage.
No bombs were found, although police have seized two knives - one from the woman and another found on the tarmac.
The incident delayed 2,000 passengers at Christchurch Airport and inbound flights had to be diverted to Dunedin, until the airport reopened three hours later.
Transport Minister Annette King has called for reports into what happened, but suggests an upgrade in security may not be necessary.
“We have spent large amounts of money putting in security systems,” she said. “But we have to keep things in perspective. This could have been a person boarding a bus.”
The Aviation Security Service says it works to the guidelines and threat assessments of the Civil Aviation Authority. Meaning it does not screen passengers at provincial airports or those boarding smaller planes.
Another issue is access to the pilots. After the September 11 attacks in the US, large jets had lockable doors to the cockpit reinforced, however on smaller planes like the Jetstream, there is nothing between pilots and passengers.
But ultimately, whether there will be an increase in security at smaller airports or for passengers travelling on smaller planes will all depend on the outcome of the reviews now under way