x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hijack alert on Abu Dhabi-Kochi Air India flight

Watch video: Local media reports said the pilot sent out a hijack alert after some angry passengers tried to enter the cockpit.

ABU DHABI // Passengers on an airliner which had been sitting on the runway of an Indian airport for nine hours eventually stormed the cabin forcing the woman pilot to send out a hijack alert, it was alleged yesterday.

Air India Express flight IX 452, a Boeing 737, was flying from Abu Dhabi to Kochi yesterday morning when it was diverted to Trivandrum due to bad weather in Kochi.

“As we were about to land in Kochi at 4am, the lady captain said the flight had to be diverted to Trivandrum because there was a lot of fog and they needed to refuel,” said passenger Tania Tom Thomas, 24,.

“I heard that as we were landing in Trivandrum the pilot would not be taking off to Kochi due to technical issues,” she said.

“This caused some passengers to get up and talk the pilot and This was misconstrued as a disturbance,” Ms Thomas said.

“Voices were raised – but the hijack alert was totally uncalled for.”

She said the pilot had just completed her 16-hour duty and would no longer be allowed to fly the aircraft.

“The passengers didn’t allow the pilot to leave until the other pilot arrived,” she said.

Paul Chalapuram, 38, an employee at Al Ain Distribution Company who was on the same flight, said there were two pilots – a  female pilot and a male co-pilot.

“At Trivandrum airport, we were told to get down since their flight time was over and that a bus would take us to Kochi,” he said.

“But we all shouted. No one wanted to get down.

“We demanded that they make arrangements for a new pilot to take over.”

Mr Chalapuram denied anyone had tried to enter the cockpit to “hijack” the pilot.

“We were on our seats,” he said. “We just wanted another pilot to come before releasing the lady pilot. She contacted the airport authorities alerting them that the passengers were hijacking the flight.”

Of the 146 passengers on the flight, there were about four pregnant women and 10 to 12 infants, aged between one and two, he said. “They were all crying,” he added.

They were stranded at Trivandrum airport for about nine hours.

“We didn’t have any food or water,” Ms Thomas said. “There was no AC and they switched off the engine completely.”

The Air India Express flight finally took off at 1.45pm (India time) and landed at Kochi airport at 2.30pm.

Seema Srivastava, the regional manager for Air India and Air India Express in the Gulf, Middle East and Africa, said the flight had to be diverted to Trivandrum due to bad weather in Kochi.

But passengers caused disturbance inside the aircraft, she said.

“When it landed, the passengers did not get off the plane and created a lot of disturbance,” she said.

“They did not allow the crew to disembark and the pilot had to request a distress message. Finally the airport authority pitched in and the matter was resolved.”

rruiz@thenational.ae