A fake hijacking threat had a FlySafair plane parked on the runway at OR Tambo International Airport‚ as police boarded the aircraft seeking the “suspect”.
Flight FA100‚ which landed in Johannesburg from Cape Town on Monday morning at 7.37am‚ emitted a signal known as a squawk – a four-digit code – to air traffic control authorities. The particular squawk that was sent signalled a hijacking‚ the airline said in a statement.
“FlySafair regrets to inform that Air Traffic Control at OR Tambo received a false alarm from one of our aircraft this morning indicating a potential hijacking on-board‚” it said.
Upon landing the crew informed authorities that there had been no threat on board‚ but according to Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) protocol passengers were not allowed to disembark until full security checks had been run.
Passengers‚ who had been informed of a false signal but little else by the flight’s captain‚ were held up on the runway as police officers entered the aircraft to conduct a security check.
One of the three officers walking down the plane’s aisle held his two-way radio to his mouth and said‚ “We need to identify the suspect”.
Passengers who had heard the officer became restless at this news and strained their necks to watch the officers’ movements as they moved along the plane’s aisle‚ returning to the front entrance.
A number of passengers alerted crew members of connecting flights they were due on while the aircraft awaited clearance from the police.
Around 8.15am the aircraft was cleared and given permission to head to a bay where passengers disembarked and boarded a bus to go to the terminal.
Police vehicles and armed officers met the passengers as they climbed down the aircraft’s steps.
An officer ordered those who had their cell phones out not to take photographs‚ signalling with his hands that they would be arrested if they did.
FlySafair spokesperson Kirby Gordon said that the aircraft was scheduled to fly back to Cape Town and do a return trip to Port Elizabeth on Monday – all of these flights have now been delayed by about an hour. He said the airline had assisted those who had missed connecting flights with alternative travel arrangements.
Though the incident has caused inconvenience and cost the airline money‚ Gordon said FlySafair is pleased that it was resolved quickly.
“It’s great to know that procedures are in place should it happen‚ but it’s better to know that it didn’t happen. It’s just reassuring to know that we’re prepared.”
FlySafair will pull reports from the aircraft and air traffic control systems to find out exactly what triggered the alert‚ he said.
South African Police Service spokesperson Major-General Vuyisile Ngesi said: “Our members were called in and assisted everybody to disembark safely from the aircraft.”
Exiting the Gautrain Station in Rosebank‚ one woman who had been on the flight said: “I wouldn’t say it was exciting. I was quite traumatised.”