Flight MH128 en route from Melbourne Airport to Kuala Lumpur was made to turn around after a bomb threat terrorised passengers on the plane.
A man attempted to enter the cockpit after the aircraft, containing 337 passengers, took off from Tullamarine Airport. He was carrying a ‘strange looking object’, said that he had a bomb and “I’m going to blow the plane up, I’m going to blow the f — n plane up.”
Authorities do not believe the incident was terrorist related. Victorian Police stated that the strange object the man was carrying was not even a bomb. This was so even though the object was seen to have ‘antennas’ coming off it.
The man then raced towards the back of the Airbus A330, and passengers quickly sprinted to take him down. They overpowered him and tied him up with belts. Handcuffing him, passengers placed his face to the floor. Former AFL player Andrew Leoncelli was on the plane and he explains his confrontation with the man in detail here.
The plane landed back at Tullamarine Airport. Armoured police boarded with rifles and tactical gear, storming through the aisles and placed the man under arrest.
Passengers were made to wait for an hour before elite officers made their presence known. “The police are sitting 4 km away, haven’t moved…This is an absolute joke, seriously help us”, Leoncelli recorded on a video. The police refused to say how long passengers would have to wait . They had initially received a report – unconfirmed – that there were several offenders. A police superintendent defended the authorities’ response, saying they needed to ensure the safety of all passengers involved.
One police source, however, provided further insight. Responding officers were apparently poorly briefed. They believed – for up to an hour – that the man was carrying an explosive device. Officers were not told where the man was being restrained when they boarded the plane around 90 minutes after landing.
The man was described to be dark-skinned, rather tall and wearing a beanie. The Malaysian Government has said that he was a Sri Lankan national and that the object he carried was not a bomb, but a “powerbank“.
The man has now been detained by airport security. He is being interviewed by the Australian Federal Police and Victorian Police.
Tullamarine closed overnight on lockdown but reopened at about 2:30am. Many planes were diverted to Avalon Airport. The airport made an announcement advising people picking guests up to instead stay at home until they could release more information.
The aircraft has now also been moved to a secure area. Australian authorities and Malaysia Airlines are investigating the incident.
No doubt, this raises major issues concerning aviation safety and security. It is not entirely clear yet how the man was able to get past security without suspicion carrying a significantly sized box with antennas. If the police source is accurate, it indicates the necessity for urgent improvement. The issues must not only be addressed by state and federal governments, but on an international level. Australian representatives at ICAO’s Global Aviation Security Symposium 2017 (AVSEC 2017) in Canada this September would do well to mention it.
This incident also does no favours to Malaysia Airlines, a company already stung with a bad public relations image since the MH17 and MH370 disasters.
Photo taken by Flickr user Alpha. Used under a Creative Commons licence.