Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bomb hoaxes, hijack scares & WWII bomb hit flights

A Chinese man has been arrested after admitting to issuing a hoax bomb warning which resulted in a domestic flight being diverted last Thursday. But it is just the latest in a series of scares which have forced planes to deviate from their intended route.

Bomb hoax

Xiong Yi, a 29-year-old male from Shiyan City in Hubei Province, was escorted by police to a detention center in central China on Sunday morning. "I was wrong, and I feel regret," he said after arriving at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport under police escort.

Xiong said that he made an anonymous phone call to an airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong, at 22:43 local time Thursday, claiming that explosives had been planted on Shenzhen Airlines Flight ZH9706, which was in mid-air, bound for Shenzhen from Xiangyang in Hubei [Xinhua / CNN].


Wearing a balaclava and a T-shirt which appeared to be emblazoned with the words "LIVE HARD, LIVE YOUR DREAM" [The last two words were obscured by a coat draped over his cuffed hands], Xiong was escorted by police from a plane which had taken him from Dongguan city in Guangdong where he had been arrested on Saturday [Xinhua].

Earlier threats

Only a few days before Air China flight CA981 bound for New York returned to the Beijing Capital International Airport after receiving a threatening message [Xinhua / CNN]. It is unknown if the same man was responsible for that message, but the incident has concerned authorities in China who have elevated security in the light of the recent scares.

On 29th June this year, passengers and crew members are said to have thwarted a hijack attempt on a short-haul flight within the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang [CNN]. Authorities said six ethnic Uyghur men violently tried to take control of the plane before being subdued. The plane returned to its point of origin safely.

Safety record

Security is usually tight throughout Beijing Capital International Airport, the world's second-busiest air hub after Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta. More than 78 million passengers passed through the Beijing airport's three terminals last year.

Air China Airlines has a relatively good safety record. On the 1st April 1999 Air China Flight 9018 had a near miss with Korean Air Flight 36 on a runway at  Chicago O'Hare International Airport. The aircraft missed each other by an estimated 23 metres and only the swift actions of the Korean Air flight crew resulted in tragedy being avoided. On 11th September 2001 Air China Flight 985, a 747 from Beijing to San Francisco, was escorted by two US F-15s onto the north runway at Vancouver International Airport during Operation Yellow Ribbon, which was implemented after the 9/11 terror attacks, apparently due to a communication problem.

In its only reported fatal crash Air China Flight 129, a Boeing 767-200ER from Beijing to Busan, South Korea, crashed into a hill while trying to land at Gimhae International Airport during inclement weather. Of 166 on board, 129 were killed.

With rising tensions and ethnic divisions  in the country, there are fears that it is only a matter of time before China sees incidents that have plagued other airlines around the world in the past 50 years.

Alert at Dutch airport

Halfway round the world a KLM jet was forced to return to Schiphol airport under escort last week after a communication breakdown triggered a terror alert. Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Airbus passenger plane after a breakdown in radio communications triggered a hijacking alert, an indication that airlines and authorities are still twitchy more than a decade after 9/11.

Flight VY 8366, operated by the budget Spanish Vueling carrier, had been travelling with 183 passengers from Malaga to Schiphol when it lost radio contact with Dutch air traffic control. The security alert came as part of Schiphol airport was evacuated due to a very different bomb threat, that of a 500 kg German WWII bomb which had been unearthed by construction workers [BBC]

Fortunately, passengers on the KLM flight, travellers at Schiphol and those on board the two Chinese planes involved in bomb hoaxes, only experienced delays. Engineers made the WWII device safe at Schiphol later that afternoon. Those who were diverted on Chinese and Dutch flights eventually made it to their destinations, even if somewhat delayed. But the events highlight the persistent threats that haunt the civil airline industry [BBCTelegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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