ANALYSIS: AVIATION

Saudia pilot triggers false hijacking alarm as plane lands in Manila

Passengers, who were forced to remain on the plane for about two hours, were reportedly not told about the nature of the emergency

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 10:34pm

A pilot of a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight accidentally pressed an emergency alarm, creating a hijack scare and triggering a major security response at Manila airport on Tuesday, authorities said.

Police isolated and surrounded the Saudia flight after it landed on Tuesday afternoon following a report to the control tower that the plane was “under threat”, a Philippine aviation authority spokesman said.

Hundreds of passengers aboard the Boeing 777 flight from the Red Sea city of Jeddah were forced to remain on the plane for about two hours, but were let off about 5:00pm local time after it was confirmed there was no threat.

“Situation is normal. It was alleged that the pilot pressed the emergency light of the aircraft unintentionally,” Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters.

When we saw the armed men we thought: ‘what’s the problem?’ We wanted to know what was happening
Passenger Aida Majud

In Saudi Arabia, an airline spokesman also said there was no security threat.

“False alarm for hijack for Flight 872,” the spokesman said.

Manila airport spokeswoman Connie Bungag released a statement saying the control tower received advice the plane was “under threat” as it was 32 kilometres from landing and authorities immediately implemented standard security operating procedures.

There were 410 passengers on board, plus four pilots and 17 crew members, airport general manager Ed Monreal said.

Many of them were returning from the annual Islamic pilgrimage in Saudia Arabia.

One of the passengers, Aida Majud, said they were not told why they were being kept on the plane.

“When we saw the armed men we thought, what’s the problem. We wanted to know what was happening,” Majud told ABS-CBN television network.

But she said the atmosphere was calm, with some speculating President Rodrigo Duterte had come to the airport to welcome back the pilgrims and that the armed men surrounding the plane were his security personnel.

Majud said passengers had to undergo body checks after getting off the plane to ensure no one was carrying weapons.

Airport officials said there were no major disruptions to aviation traffic, with planes continuing to land and take off, because the Saudia aircraft had been kept at an isolated area.

The carrier is known as Saudia.

The incident came after Phillipine officials in February announced they had strengthened security for Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Manila and its national airline because of a possible threat. At the time, officials also said additional armed officers were posted in the boarding area for the Saudi flag carrier and to guard the airline’s luggage.

It did not elaborate on the threat. However, it came as the Sunni-ruled kingdom has been on increasingly hostile terms with Shiite power Iran.

Additional reporting by Associated Press