x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Passenger tried to open plane door in mid-flight

A man is restrained after attacking fellow travellers and trying to open the plane's door while flying from Dubai to India.

DUBAI // Aircraft passengers had to help crew members overpower a man who tried to open the door thousands of feet in the air, demanding that he be allowed to leave. The packed Air India Express flight, with more than 130 people on board, was travelling from Dubai to the southern Indian city of Mangalore when Mohammed Ashraf, 28, allegedly began attacking crew members and fellow passengers.

He was restrained but eventually jumped out of his seat and ran towards the cabin, where he threatened to open the exit door. "He spoke in Hindi and asked the crew to open the door as he wanted to leave," said Chellam Prasad, the budget airline's area manager in Mangalore. "The crew showed great presence of mind and managed to get the man back into his seat." Mr Ashraf was held down and tied to his seat for the rest of the flight and was handed over to police after the plane landed in Mangalore. He was charged over the incident and has been released on bail.

Airline authorities said Mr Ashraf, from Puttur in India, was "deeply disturbed and stressed", but had not consumed any alcohol on the flight. Flight IX812, with 128 passengers and about eight crew, took off from Dubai early on Sunday. About 45 minutes into the journey, Mr Ashraf allegedly attacked a hostess. As the hostess was serving Mr Ashraf, she noticed that he was holding his nose and trying not to breathe, said Ms Prasad.

She added: "He had gone cold and this worried the crew. She tried to stop him and this upset him. "He kicked the lady crew member several times. We had only one male crew on board and he quickly intervened. He prevented any women from going near the man." The male crew member approached Mr Ashraf and tried to calm him down. Later, however, Mr Ashraf allegedly attacked him and some of the other passengers.

"He hit the male crew member quite badly," said Ms Prasad. "He had a black eye, swollen lips and other bruises. Our staff did extremely well to control the man and handle the situation." Passengers went to help the crew and pin down Mr Ashraf. One of them, a young student, said: "It was scary, that is all I can say right now." Ms Prasad said: "Four men were needed to pin him down. It was a serious situation. We have never faced anybody like this before."

A seat belt, blankets and scarfs were used to tie Mr Ashraf to his seat for the rest of the flight. Airline officials said there was a huge round of applause from passengers for the crew once the drama was over. Mr Ashraf, who works as a driver in Dubai, was returning home on holiday for the first time in two years, the officials said. The reason for his unusual behaviour was not clear. "All we could gather from him is that he has been employed as a driver in Dubai since 2007," said Ms Prasad.

"One of the reasons he gave us for his behaviour was that he wanted to go home for Eid but he could not do so due to not getting any leave." The drama followed other incidents on flights between the UAE and India in recent weeks. This month, two pilots of an Air India flight from Sharjah to New Delhi via Lucknow were suspended after they allegedly fought with crew members in front of passengers. An inquiry is under way to determine if the pilots left the cockpit, leaving the plane's controls unattended.

In September, an Emirati was arrested for allegedly groping a stewardess on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Hyderabad. pmenon@thenational.ae