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Posted: 5/29/2003 5:27:55 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 5/30/2003 4:32:07 AM EDT by u-baddog]
Man Armed with Wooden Stakes Tries to Hijack andCrash Australian Airliner [url]http://hamptonroads.cox.net/cci/portal/.cmd/ActionDispatcher/_pagr/113/_pa.113/316/.st/X/.piid/821/.ciid/1823/PC_821_pcor_action/detailView#1823 [/url]SYDNEY, May 29 (AFP) - A man armed with small wooden stakes smuggled past airport metal detectors slashed two flight attendants Thursday in a failed bid to hijack and crash a domestic Australian airliner with 53 people aboard, officials said. Passengers and crew quickly overpowered the man, described by police as a 40-year-old Australian, shortly after the Qantas Boeing 717 carrying 47 passengers and six crew took off on a flight from Melbourne to Tasmania. Transport Minister John Anderson said the incident did not appear to be terrorist-related even though the man said he wanted to crash the plane. "Although it was pre-meditated, it doesn't appear to have been an act of terrorism," Anderson told reporters. Police were still questioning the would-be hijacker hours after the incident but gave no indication of his possible motive. Local media described the mid-air drama as Australia's most serious airline hijack attempt as passengers hailed a steward named Greg as a hero in averting catastrophe. The hijack attempt began 10 minutes into the flight when a man dressed in a brown suit stood up from a seventh-row seat and attacked the steward with two red wooden stakes about 15 centimetres (six inches) long. Bleeding from a deep head wound, the steward forced the assailant back from the cockpit door, giving passengers time to overpower him, the witnesses said. "The steward had a lot of blood on the back of his neck, he was good, very good, very brave," said passenger Joe Da Costa. Several passengers helped restrain the assailant with plastic ties, bundling him between two seats before the flight returned to Melbourne and made an emergency landing, police said. In the scuffle a 25-year-old stewardess was slashed on the face and two passengers were slightly hurt, officials said. "The fellow Greg really was a hero... if it wasn't for him we could've been in a lot of trouble," another passenger, Keith Charlton, told Sky News. "As he was being attacked, he put his head down into the man's chest and he pushed him back down the plane," he said. "Calm remained throughout the aircraft. There were one or two people who were quite angry about it but the aircraft was quite calm," Charlton said. Anderson praised the training of the Qantas crew and defended security measures at Melbourne airport, saying the hijacker's wooden stakes could not have been discovered by airport metal detectors. "We are at world's best practice," he said. "The safety of the airplane was never in doubt." But Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon announced the airline had already launched an investigation into the incident and said it was too early to say whether security had been breached. "We don't know if it was a breach in security," he said. "These are two very small wooden instruments and how they were obtained, how they ended up on the plane, we're investigating that." Anderson said authorities would leave no stone unturned in finding out how the man was able to board the plane with weapons. He said the flight was not carrying sky marshalls, the armed law enforcers who have travelled on random flights in Australia since shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. While Australia has agreed to reinforce all cockpit doors on its airliners, the aircraft involved in the hijack attempt had not yet been upgraded, he said. Australia has been on heightened terrorist alert since September 11 and has been named as a target by Ossama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network for its involvement in the US-led wars against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and against Iraq.
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