A cardinal rule of flying is: never say the words ‘bomb’ or ‘hijacking’ on a plane.
One passenger found out why the hard way – he now sits under police custody after making what he thought was an innocuous joke that ended up as a national hijacking scare.
According to Airport Security Force Director Zulfiqar Malik, before PK-586 took off, passengers were asking the crew where the emergency exits were and how one could open the doors in case of one. This is expected from passengers considering the recent Bhoja Air tragedy.
One passenger, Javed Ansari, seated in Economy Plus having been upgraded from Economy Class, quickly got chummy with the man sitting next to him asking him if he had paid for this seat or whether he too had been upgraded.
Fifteen to 20 minutes after take-off and about 40 nautical miles outside of Karachi, the cockpit door swung open and Ansari turned to the air hostess and taunted: “Look at this plane. I can hijack this plane if I want to, but I won’t.”
Following protocol, the air hostess informed the flight captain who also followed the security procedure and decided to turn the plane back around for Karachi.
According to PIA, passengers on board did not know what was going on and thus no alarm was raised.
The flight landed back at the Karachi airport and passengers were offloaded, while Javed Ansari was taken into ASF custody.
“We searched the passenger’s bags and took him into custody where we interrogated him, but found nothing suspicious. He also seemed mentally stable so we handed him over to the police for further investigation,” said ASF Deputy DG Colonel Farooq Khan at the ASF headquarters.
At the airport police station, Ansari, a resident of Defense Housing Authority who says he works in textiles, broke down in tears as a constable moved to handcuff him. “No, no… not this.”
His reactions were contradictory. Five minutes later, he was calm and smiling. “I don’t want to give any comments to the media; though it was entirely my fault.”
The police also searched his luggage and other belongings. “I have only one concern,” Ansari said. “My family is calling on my cell phone and I can’t talk to them. They must be worried.”
The police did not immediately comment on the matter and Ansari was still in police custody till late evening. They are to further interrogate the suspect.
The fine print
According to the 1971 Montreal Convention, provisions for such incidents fall under the ‘Acts of Unlawful Interference Involving Aircraft’. An aviation consultant told The Express Tribune: “Yes, he did commit a crime.”
The aviation consultant added that this law was added into the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2008 and convictions under the Anti-Terrorism Act tend to carry heavy sentences. But after speaking to the ASF, he noted that the police may be more lenient after realising that the passenger wasn’t suspicious in any way.
The Fokker plane had 42 passengers on board and was headed for Lahore via Bahawalpur. The flight was cleared by the ASF and Civil Aviation Authority and made its way back to Bahawalpur, with one less passenger.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.