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‘Hands up!’ A crime emerges that we all hoped was over

February 26, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The curtains came down on the age of aircraft hijacking in 2001 – so news this week that a man brandishing a handgun had tried to force his way onto the flight deck of an airliner was like a bad dream from another era.

Bangladeshi commandoes shot dead a gunman after he tried to enter the cockpit of a flight from Bangladesh to Dubai, operated by state-run Biman Bangladesh Airlines. The man had threatened to blow up the plane.

The pilot of the B737 aircraft made an emergency landing at Chittagong’s Shah Amanat International Airport.

Reports say the passenger suddenly jumped up from his seat mid-flight and marched down the aisle towards the cockpit. When a crewmember blocked his way, the man produced a pistol and threatened to blow up the plane, saying he had explosives strapped to his body.

The suspect appears to have been deranged or psychotic rather than politically inspired. He had a personal issue with his wife, reports say. He told the pilot he wanted to speak to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Negotiations after landing led to all 142 passengers and most crew departing the plane unharmed. One crew member, possibly the pilot, was reportedly being held hostage when commandoes and military marksmen stormed the plane. In a swift operation lasting eight minutes they shot the hijacker dead.

The man’s gun and explosives were later found to be fake, but in hijack or hostage situations security forces always presume weapons are real and dangerous.

Hijacking is now a rare crime but it used to be commonplace. Believe it or not, the US once had more than 130 hijackings in its airspace in just four years.

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York, tough new restrictions have made it almost impossible to board a plane carrying explosives or weapons.

Occasional exceptions occur. Last year, a crazed man brandishing a fountain pen took a flight attendant hostage in China and forced the flight to divert. The penman was arrested after landing and whisked away to a psychiatric clinic before the ink was dry.

Hijacking carries the death penalty in China, as it does in India and (incidentally) in the US states of Georgia and Mississippi.

Fly this plane to Cuba! An event from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of hijacking

The first recorded hijacking of a commercial flight was when pirates attacked the Cathay Pacific Catalina seaplane ‘Miss Macao’ in 1948, in a bid to rob wealthy passengers and hold them to ransom. That was back in the days when you could board an aircraft in some parts of the world while carrying a pistol and a bottle of whisky, without raising many eyebrows.

The so-called “Golden Age” of aircraft hijacking (a bizarre term) ran from 1968 into the early 1980s. Between May 1961 and the end of 1972, 159 hijackings took place in American airspace and a lot happened in other parts of the world.

Attacks tapered off after new regulations made boarding aircraft with weapons more difficult. Thankfully, fresh screening procedures and rules introduced after the 2001 New York attacks have made it harder still.

Written by Peter Needham

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