Hijacking was false alarm


Published October 3, 2001

NEW DELHI, India (AP) The reported hijacking of an Indian jetliner on a domestic flight last night was a false alarm caused by an anonymous phone call and confusion aboard the aircraft, the government said.

Earlier, civil aviation officials said hijackers seized a Boeing 737 jetliner shortly after its departure from Bombay late last night, reportedly with 54 people on board.

National security force commandos surrounded the plane early today at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Fire vehicles and ambulances ringed the runway, and a fuel tanker was parked in front to prevent the jet from taking off.

Several hours later, Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain called it a false alarm triggered by an anonymous call reporting the hijacking to an air traffic control station.

"It was only after the commandos entered the cockpit that the pilot realized that it was a false alarm," Hussain said.

The Alliance Air jet had departed Bombay and was headed for New Delhi when the caller reported the plane hijacked, Hussain said.

After learning of the call from the air traffic controller, the pilot headed straight for New Delhi, skipping the scheduled stop in Ahmadabad, north of Bombay, Hussain said.

The pilot, Capt. Ashwini Behl locked the cockpit door, thinking the hijackers were hidden among the passengers, Hussain said. The passengers thought the hijackers were in the cockpit.

After the pilot landed the plane on an isolated runway at the New Delhi airport, passengers called waiting relatives by cellular phone, many of them unaware of reports of a hijacking.

"At 2:30 a.m., the pilot announced that a hijacking had taken place, but he asked us not to panic," passenger Arun Sathe told The Associated Press.

Commandos then boarded the plane, he said.

The passengers later were seen disembarking from the plane.

Airports throughout India have been on red alert status the highest since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

Hussain said authorities would investigate who made the call. He refused to respond to reports that the incident was a security drill.

"We"ve been taking all precautions and we went through the full exercise. We took no chances," Hussain said. "We have taken all hoax calls seriously."

On Dec. 24, 1999, five hijackers seized an Indian Airlines flight carrying 178 passengers and 11 crew members after it left Nepal. After a weeklong standoff, hijackers left the plane after India agreed to release three prisoners. One passenger was killed.

Alliance Air is a subsidiary of state-run Indian Airlines.