A drunk passenger sparked a hijack alert on a Virgin Australia flight heading for the Indonesian resort island of Bali yesterday 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 tourist 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 authorities 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.”
A flight attendant said Lockley had demanded medicine and started banging on the cockpit door, according to Bali police chief Benny Mokalu.
He was stopped by crew, handcuffed and placed in a seat at the back of the plane, which was carrying 137 passengers and seven crew, officials said.
After landing the passenger, who was unarmed, was taken off the aircraft and detained. Pictures showed Lockley, dressed in flip-flops, white shorts and a T-shirt, being taken away by heavily armed members of the air force.
Officials said he did not try to resist arrest and TV footage showed him being led away surrounded by a scrum of reporters.
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 said 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 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 said in a statement reports of a hijacking were “completely incorrect” and 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.
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