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Pilots stabbed in hijack bid

Published: 8:08AM Friday February 08, 2008 Source: ONE News

A mid-air knife attack on two pilots and a bomb threat sparked terror in the sky and chaos on the ground in Christchurch on Friday.

Armed police stormed the plane when it landed at Christchurch airport to seize the suspected female hijacker.

Described as Somali, she has been arrested and charged with hijacking, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and injuring with intent to injure.  The hijacking charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Air National 19-seater Jetstream aircraft left Blenheim around 7am with seven passengers - two male and five female - and two crew.

At 7:40am, the control tower took a mayday call from the pilots. Over the next five to 15 minutes there was a scuffle with the woman and she was subdued. At 8:06am the plane was on the ground, nearly half an hour after the drama began.

Police and dog teams tackled an armed woman to the ground and she was led away for questioning.

Just minutes before, she had been aboard the commuter plane she allegedly tried to hijack, claiming she had two bombs on board.

The woman is alleged to have made demands to go to Australia. Police say the pilots suggested they return to Blenheim and the woman refused this request.

Police say two passengers attempted to calm the woman but were repelled by her and as a result, one female passenger received a cut to her hand. The woman suspect is alleged to have threatened them and told them she had a bomb and is also alleged to have made threats in respect to the passengers.

She maintained her stance with the knife in hand, standing directly behind the pilots at the bulkhead, police say.

They say threats continued during the flight with the pilot attempting to calm the suspect down by talking to her.

The pilots took the aircraft into a descent as they were approaching Christchurch Airport. Police say the woman interfered with the aircraft control panel and physically moved the aircraft controls.

They say as part of the descent process, the pilots made a turn and the woman lost balance and was no longer able to interfere with the controls. She became silent but continued to have the knife in her possession.

Due to weather conditions, the descent and landing were rough.

The aircraft safely landed and came to a stop on the runway but the drama at Christchurch Airport had only just begun.

Eyewitnesses say the passengers left on the plane were desperate to get away. 

"People scurried to get down off the plane, run off the plane They were immediately told to hit the ground and the cops had their guns drawn and then the dogs came out. The dogs went onto the plane," says Phillip McGovern, an eyewitness.

The 33-year-old Somali passenger, photographed being led away, had apparently been less calm just minutes before. 
 
"Would have been two officers, one at the front, one at the side and maybe one on the other side trying  to pull her off the plane. And she was kicking and screaming and grabing onto the rails and things like that as she was leaving the plane," say eyewitness Andrew Sar'e.

One of the pilots taken to Christchurch Hospital was stabbed in the hand, the other in the foot.

They are not badly hurt but both are badly shaken even though they are now being called heroes for getting the plane safely onto the tarmac.

As the Blenheim  passengers were led away for questioning by police, the bomb threat led to an immediate airport shutdown. The domestic terminal was evacuated and all flights put on hold.

To some it was just surreal.

"I thought it was a movie. I really did, I thought they were shooting a movie for the cameras," says McGovern.

Among those caught up was the Minister of Police and Minister of Transport, Annette King.

"It's been incredibly calm and people have been very generous," says King.

"There has been no panic. People just quietly left the building and are standing around chatting and so I think it's a very good exercise in people doing what they were asked  to do."

The plane was left on the tarmac for several hours and has now been moved to a hanger as authorities begin their investigation into what's thought to be New Zealand's first real hijack emergency.

If you have footage of the incident you can send it to the ONE News team via YOUR CAM or email directly to news@tvnz.co.nz .

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