There was nothing obviously unusual about 10-year-old Ali Hassan. He wore worn-out slippers, jogging trousers and a simple T-shirt. But in reality, this boy was far from ordinary. He was the last remaining passenger on the plane. And this minor had travelled from Islamabad to Quetta without a ticket, a boarding pass or a guardian.
This story of a young boy who managed to cross multiple security checks at Islamabad International Airport and hoodwink Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) crew to find a seat on a flight to Balochistan’s capital has raised serious concerns about the safety of airports.
On the evening of May 9, PIA crew found Hassan sitting alone in the aircraft, which had just landed in Quetta.
“He didn’t have a ticket, boarding pass or parents accompanying and he kept coming up with different stories. He is a very shrewd boy,” said a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official who is linked with the case. “The way he managed to get on the aircraft leaves a big question mark about the performance of the Airport Security Force (ASF).”
According to the CCTV footage from Islamabad airport, Hassan walked to the ASF counters alone. One after another, he casually passed through all the security checks, the official said.
“When he reached the Boeing 737’s gate, the PIA crew asked him about his ticket. He said it was with his parents who were sitting somewhere inside. Our staff checked the name on the list and it was there. Apparently another boy named Ali Hassan was also on the flight,” said a PIA official.
At the Quetta airport, he was handed over to CAA officials and sent back to Islamabad on a PIA flight the next day. He was handed over to SHO Airport Police Station Malik Rafaqat but the boy has been missing since then.
“I can’t say anything on the matter right now. Just give me a day and I will come up with details,” said Rafaqat, insisting he was in Lahore on an official engagement. He didn’t say where the boy was.
A reliable source in CAA said Hassan was shifted to SOS Children’s Village, a social welfare organization that takes care of orphaned and abandoned children. But there the trail grows cold.
“We don’t have any boy by that name,” said SOS Rawalpindi’s Director Fatima. “As a matter of fact police has not shifted anyone to our facility in the past two months.”
PIA’s Quetta station officer and managers of Quetta and Islamabad airports refused to comment on the story. Islamabad’s ASF officials were also unable for comments.
A PIA spokesperson said that the fault lies with ASF, which didn’t stop the boy at the entry gate. “We accept that there might have been some oversight on our part. But it was clearly the responsibility of security officials to stop him from approaching the plane.”
Officials say the boy could have been used to see if someone can bypass the security checks. “Anyone could be behind this. They could be smugglers or terrorists. We don’t know yet,” said another airport official.
This is not the first time that poor security checks at airports have come under the spotlight. In 2011, a stowaway fell to death in Lahore from an aircraft. The investigations into that case were never completed. More recently, Shahrukh Jatoi, the main accused in the Shahzeb murder case, also breezed through airport security when leaving Karachi for Dubai. He was on the Exit Control List at the time.
The recent incident has again forced the Ministry of Defence to constitute a high level committee led by Additional Secretary Muhammad Iftikhar Mir for the investigation. The enquiry is supposed to be completed in two weeks.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2013.
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