PASSENGERS and crew on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur tackled a fellow passenger who attempted to enter the cockpit shouting he had a bomb, authorities and witnesses said on Thursday.
The 25-year-old man, a Sri Lankan national, was tied up with seatbelts and the flight diverted back to Melbourne following the incident shortly after takeoff late on Wednesday.
Australian police said they did not believe the incident was linked to terrorism, instead citing mental health issues. A device carried by the man as he shouted threats was not dangerous, they said. It appeared to be a bluetooth speaker device.
“It was an isolated incident and we do believe he suffers from a mental illness,” Superintendent Michael Goode of the Australian Federal Police told a media conference on Thursday.
— saroki (@saroki19) May 31, 2017
Arif Chaudhery, a passenger on board MH128, told Reuters that about 30 minutes into the flight a male passenger attacked a female member of the cabin crew who screamed out for help.
“Some passengers and crew grabbed the man and tackled him to the floor,” Chaudhery said, adding that seat belts were used to tie the man’s hands.
“We were very lucky. It could have been worse.”
— Nine News Adelaide (@9NewsAdel) June 1, 2017
Armed police boarded the plane when it landed back in Melbourne, taking the man, who bought a plane ticket hours after being released from psychiatric care, into custody.
The man is due to appear in court on Thursday on charges relating to making threats, false statements and endangering the safety of an aircraft.
The airline stressed the flight had not at any point been hijacked.
Flight MH128 returned to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport “after the operating captain was alerted by a cabin crew of a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit”, the airline said in a statement. It had departed at 11:11pm. Melbourne time and returned at 11:41pm.
“Malaysia Airlines together with the Australian authorities will be investigating the incident,” the statement added.
FULL UPDATE on Flight MH128 from Melbourne following passenger incident. https://t.co/duE4JgKYnK
— Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) May 31, 2017
Aircraft tracking website Flightradar said flights bound for Melbourne had been diverted to other airports because of the incident.
Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport was briefly closed during the incident but has since reopened, airport authorities said.
Malaysia Airlines has suffered two major airline disasters in recent years. In 2014, Flight MH370 with 239 people on board went missing on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Boeing 777 plane has yet to be found and its location is one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries. The deep-sea search for the missing plane was called off in January.
SEE ALSO: MH370: Hunt over but questions remain
Soon after MH370 went missing, Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in eastern Ukraine, killing all on board.
The airline has struggled to recover from the twin tragedies, having to cut staff and restructure its business as passenger numbers fell. – Reuters