I panicked when I read flight had been hijacked - Airlink passenger

2016-07-11 18:10
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PICS: Police surround plane at Wonderboom Airport

An eyewitness at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria said that a large number of the police's Special Task Force vehicles surrounded an Airlink plane that was reported as hijacked. View photos here.

Pretoria - Some passengers aboard an Airlink plane initially thought they had been hijacked on Monday after it landed late at Wonderboom airport in Pretoria and stood for over two hours on the runway, according to a fellow traveller.

After alighting from the plane and moving into the terminal with some 70 passengers, Rofhiwa Mudau told on scene videographer Daniel Shelley that he had mixed reactions and initially panicked.

"I didn't know what to do because the flight was just standing there in the runway without any movement. We initially were not getting any feedback," said Mudau.

"A couple of passengers we were with went online and that is when they read reports that the aircraft has just been hijacked. But then after that the captain came in and he squashed those reports."

The flight had earlier been reported as hijacked after the plane apparently sent out an "anomalous" alert on Monday.

Belongings left behind

SA Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba said a false hijack alert was set off 10 minutes before the plane was due to land at 12:15.

Mudau said the captain indicated that the aircraft sent false alarms signals of a hijacking to the control tower.

He added that people were a bit more relaxed after that.

Fellow passenger Miranda Ramashala, an educator, said the pilot announced it was a technical error.
Ramashala, a Soshanguve resident, said they were informed that police would escort them off the plane with their hands on their heads. They had to leave their belongings behind.

She was returning from a weekend getaway in Cape Town. She said most passengers were calm but tired. Staff had apparently been kind and offered them water.

Various eyewitnesses reported seeing vehicles belonging to the police, its special task force, the army, and medical and fire personnel, around the plane.

Despite the false alert, Ledwaba said the mandatory hijack response procedures were activated. The police's hijack response team checked to make sure the aircraft was not hijacked.

Passengers eventually made their way off the plane, with minors going first.

Buses transported the travellers to the terminal.

Two-and-a-half hours on runway

Police and their sniffer dogs moved around as passengers picked up their carry-on luggage on Monday afternoon. They were debriefed at a restaurant in the terminal building, said Shelley.
Mudau said he felt uneasy after having spent two-and-a-half hours on the runway.

"After seeing everything that has happened, I honestly have some doubts to say it was just a false alarm. Maybe these reports were true but then they had to investigate."

He told Shelley that he did not see anyone being arrested.

SA Airlink spokesperson Karin Murray said the hijack alert for flight SA8678 from Cape Town to Wonderboom appeared to be an anomaly.

"Seventy two passengers and four crew members are safe. Operations are back to normal," she said.
A statement on the website said the aircraft "emitted an anomalous hijack alert through its transponder".

The statement said passengers and crew were safe on the ground "where authorities have held the aircraft as a prescribed precautionary measure while they verify that all is in good order".

Airlink said it would assist authorities with their inquiry, a mandatory step following such incidents.

"Airlink has also initiated an internal investigation into the erroneous transmission."

The aviation authority said it was satisfied that that the stipulated procedures were correctly followed.

"This demonstrates the state of readiness of the various South African civil aviation and other State agencies when faced with a potential threat," said Ledwaba.

He commended all officials who immediately activated their emergency procedures after the alert.

Read more on:    saa  |  pretoria  |  air travel

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