A Malaysia Airlines plane, with 337 people onboard, was forced to return to the airport when a mentally-ill Sri Lankan passenger threatened to detonate a bomb after allegedly trying to force his way into the cockpit, officials said.
The 25 year old man was subdued by the crew and passengers who tied him up with belts.
The Kuala Lumpur-bound flight MH 128, which left Melbourne at 11:11pm, was forced to return and make an emergency landing 30 minutes after it took off from Tullamarine Airport late last night.
The man was arrested by airport security after the plane landed and is now in police custody.
“We believe that the actions of the passengers and crew were heroic,” Victoria Police Superintendent Tony Langdon was quoted as saying.
“They managed to calm the situation, allowing the aircraft to return safely and we can’t commend them highly enough,” Langdon said.
Photographs on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website showed black-clad armed officers on board the plane.
He said the incident was not terror-related and the man was known to the police due to his history of mental-illness.
Langdon said the man was carrying an electronic device that police quickly realised was not a bomb. “He had a piece of equipment which, for all intents and purposes is something that everybody would be carrying around on a daily basis.”
A passenger sitting in business class, who identified himself as Andy, told Melbourne commercial radio station 3AW that the arrested man had threatened to “blow the plane up.”
Former AFL player Andrew Leoncelli, who was a passenger on the flight, said the man screamed, “I’ve got a bomb and I’m going to f***ing blow the plane up,” before flight attendants and other passengers tackled and restrained him.
The Australian Associated Press (AAP) news agency said that in air traffic control audio posted online, a male voice can be heard saying: “We have a passenger trying to enter the cockpit.”
About three minutes later the same male voice can be heard saying “the passenger claiming to have an explosive device, tried to enter the cockpit, (and) has been overpowered by passengers.”
“However we’d like to land and have the device checked,” the voice said.
Malaysia Airlines in a statement said the aircraft turned back “after the operating Captain was alerted by a cabin crew of a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit.”
“Malaysia Airlines would like to stress that at no point was the aircraft ‘hijacked’,” it said.
“MH128 safely landed in Melbourne airport at 11.41 pm (local time). Following the incident on MH128, the disruptive passenger has been apprehended by airport security. Malaysia Airlines together with the Australian authorities will be investigating the incident,” it said.
Passenger images showed several anti-terror police storming the jet, wearing a mixture of camouflage and dark Special Operations Group clothing.
They were brandishing assault rifles and special night vision glasses.
Malaysia Airlines said the plane’s passengers would be put up at hotels and offered another flight.