Drunk passenger sparks hijack alert in Bali

World
A Virgin Australia plane which was forced to land in Bali is seen at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, 25 April 2014. An unruly passenger caused the hijack scare at Denpasar airport in Bali. Picture: EPA/MADE NAGI

DENPASAR, Indonesia - A drunk passenger sparked a hijack alert on a Virgin Australia flight heading for the Indonesian resort island of Bali Friday when he attempted to break into the cockpit, officials said.

Security forces rushed to the airport when the Boeing 737-800 touched down on the popular island, after the pilot reported the Brisbane to Bali flight had been hijacked, Indonesian authorities said.

However, Virgin Australia said the drunken passenger had sparked a false alarm when he banged on the cockpit door. Indonesian police later arrested Matt Christopher Lockley, an Australian national.

"This is no hijacking, this is a miscommunication," said Heru Sudjatmiko, a Virgin Australia official in Bali. "What happened was there was a drunk person... too much alcohol consumption caused him to act aggressively."

"Based on the report I received, the passenger tried to enter the cockpit, through the cockpit door, by banging on the door."

He said the man was stopped by crew, handcuffed and placed in a seat at the back of the plane, which was carrying 137 passengers and seven crew.

After landing the passenger, who was unarmed, was taken off the aircraft and detained. Officials said he did not try to resist arrest.

Transport ministry official Herry Bakti said the alert was triggered when the pilot sent a signal to Bali airport that the plane had been hijacked, and then followed up with a verbal confirmation.

"We then guided the flight to land as they were flying close to the airport," he said.

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman told AFP the pilot had entered the code for "unlawful interference", which was "standard operating procedure, based on the threat they perceived at the time".

No passengers were hurt during the incident, officials said.

Palani Mohan, a passenger on a Garuda flight that was preparing to take off from Bali, said that when the drama began the pilot of his plane announced the airport was in lockdown.

"The captain of my plane made an announcement saying we were delayed indefinitely because a hijack was going on in Bali airport, about 150 metres (yards) away from us."

"I saw at least five vehicles including military-style trucks, filled with men in uniform, rushing towards the plane," he said.

"Then the Virgin plane taxied away, followed by the convoy of security forces."

The airport was shut down for about an hour but flights resumed after the Virgin plane was taken off the tarmac.

Virgin Australia confirmed in a statement that reports of a hijacking were "completely incorrect" and that everyone on board had disembarked safely.

"At no point was the safety of the aircraft in question," said the airline.

"There was a disruptive passenger on board and the pilot notified authorities in advance of landing, as per standard operating procedures. The passenger was unarmed and is now in the custody of the Indonesian authorities."

Bakti said nine aircraft that had been approaching Bali were diverted to other Indonesian airports during the shutdown.

Bali, a pocket of Hinduism in Muslim-majority Indonesia, is an enormously popular tourist destination, attracting millions of foreign visitors every year to its palm-fringed beaches.

The airport has been the scene of drama before. In April last year a Lion Air plane missed the runway as it came into land, smashing into the sea and splitting in two.

Dozens of the 108 people on board were injured, but there were no fatalities.

Bali has also been the scene of attacks by Muslim extremists in the past. Bombings on the island in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists.

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