Sochi hijack attempt foiled as Turkish jet lands in Istanbul

Ukrainian who told pilot to fly to Sochi tricked into landing in Turkey

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 9:21am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 4:21am

A Ukrainian man tried to hijack a Turkey-bound flight to Sochi, Russia, as the Winter Olympics were kicking off on Friday, but the pilot tricked him and landed in Istanbul instead, where he was stealthily detained after a four-hour stand-off on a plane full of passengers.

A Turkish F-16 fighter was scrambled as soon as the pilot of the Pegasus Airlines flight from Kharkiv, Ukraine, with 110 passengers aboard, signalled there was a hijacking attempt. It escorted the plane safely to Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul.

Officials credited the pilot and crew for convincing the 45-year-old man, who claimed he had a bomb, that they were following his wishes. "He thought it was going to Sochi but after a while he realised the plane was in Istanbul," Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.

Habib Soluk, the Turkish Transport Ministry undersecretary, said the man rose from his seat, shouted that there was bomb on board and tried to enter the locked cockpit. The pilot signalled that there was a hijack attempt and the airport was placed on high alert.

After a stand-off, a negotiator convinced him to first allow women and children to be evacuated and later agreed to let all other passengers off as well. "Our security units sneaked through various entrances during the evacuation of the passengers and with a quick and effective intervention the hijacker was subdued," Mutlu said. No bomb was found.

The motive of the man, identified as Artem Hozloz, was unclear. He was slightly injured during the struggle but no weapons were used. Ukraine has launched an inquiry.

Ukrainian Security Service official Maxim Lenko said the man opposed the politics of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The would-be hijacker "said the hands of Yanukovych and Putin were drenched in blood", he said.

The Interfax news agency cited the Ukrainian Security Service as saying the man was very drunk. Mutlu said the man was not drunk, but may have taken substances to help him stay alert.

Lenko said the suspect bought his plane ticket on the day of the flight in Kharkiv and raised no initial suspicions from airport personnel.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse