Woman attacks aircraft pilots in New Zealand hijacking attempt

Friday, February 8, 2008

Aerial view of Christchurch International Airport.
Image: file photograph.

A 33-year-old Somalian woman was arrested after she stabbed two pilots in an attempt to hijack a New Zealand passenger plane. The 19-seater on Eagle Airways Flight NZ2279, was travelling from Blenheim to Christchurch when the incident occurred. Eagle is a regional commuter carrier division of Air New Zealand.

According to media reports, the pilots sent a mayday call around 07:40 NZDT to report that a female passenger had breached the cockpit and attacked them before being removed from the flight deck area. Local police confirmed that the woman also made bomb threats. Christchurch Police Commander Dave Cliff told reporters that emergency radio calls informing staff on the ground that the woman claimed to have two bombs on board were sent by the wounded pilots after subduing their attacker.

The pilot sustained a severely cut hand while the co-pilot suffered a foot injury.

The flight landed at 08:00 NZDT in Christchurch and the woman was arrested by a special Armed Offenders police team, and was taken into questioning. Police and fire units quickly surrounded the plane as it landed, and a witness account said a "sniper was on the tarmac". All six remaining passengers were removed from the plane and the pilots were able to walk off before being moved to Christchurch Hospital for treatment.

Passengers and their luggage on short haul flights within New Zealand are not subject to security checks. This excludes domestic flights departing a New Zealand international airport, however. Air New Zealand, the national carrier who operated the flight through a charter company, told reporters Friday that the company was reviewing security measures across the fleet following the incident.

"Today's incident, although a one-off, has naturally given us cause to conduct a thorough review of our safety and security systems and processes on regional domestic flights," said Bruce Parton, Air New Zealand's general manager of short-haul airlines.

Police searched the plane and are now confident there was no bomb on board, although initial measures were taken to arrange a bomb disposal unit for a possible unit in the woman's bag. The Christchurch Airport was closed for three hours following the incident.

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