Passengers see gunmen hold up plane on runway

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Passengers on a flight from London to Sweden looked on in amazement as masked gunmen staged a runway robbery on their plane at Landvetter airport, near Gothenburg.

The thieves fled with a "large sum" of cash in foreign currency from the cargo hold. Gothenburg police evacuated parts of the airport after the gang left a suspicious bag, believed to be a bomb, on the Tarmac. The airport's head of security said he suspected they had benefited from inside knowledge.

The drama unfolded at 12.30pm (11.30am GMT). Passengers on Scandinavian Airlines' 9.35am SK524 flight from London Heathrow were ready to disembark after two hours in the air when two cars, a Volvo and a Jeep Cherokee, smashed through locked gates at the airport in south-west Sweden.

Stunned eyewitnesses - some of them British - watched from the windows of the MD81 jet as at least five hooded robbers, several carrying machine-guns, ran towards them. Outside the plane, the gunmen confronted luggage handlers unloading crates full of foreign currency from the hold into a Securitas van, said Gothenburg police spokeswoman Anna Rosenberg. Staff working for Securitas, the company involved in last month's major heist in Kent, were threatened, but no shots were fired.

"They took lots of money, but the exact amount we do not know," she said. "It was foreign currency. A large amount of money."

One passenger, Simon Darnard, told the local newspaper, Goteborgs-Posten, that he saw masked men outside the aircraft. An unnamed passenger on another flight from London that arrived during the raid said: "When I saw men with masks running towards a red car I realised it was a robbery."

The gang fled, leaving a bag with "antennae" sticking out the top on the runway. "We suspect it may be a bomb, Ms Rosenberg said. Swedish bomb disposal officers X-rayed the package and were planning to move it away from the plane last night. The international section of the airport was closed.

The robbers spread nails on a road near the airport in an attempt to thwart chasing officers. Their getaway cars were found burned out yesterday afternoon several miles from the airport.

Meanwhile, the five crew and 91 passengers, including two children, were evacuated from the plane. "Some were not even aware a robbery was going on," said Ms Rosenberg. "They didn't see [the bomb] because it was on the ground. No one was hurt and passengers were not threatened."

Police were still questioning eyewitnesses but no arrests had been made by late last night.

The airport security manager, Dan Larsson, told a newspaper he suspected the theft was an inside job. "I judge it highly unlikely that they did not have [inside information]," he said - pointing out that the gang must have known that cash was being transported on that flight, as well as details of security procedures.

The audacious raid - particularly worrying for police, given the supposedly stringent runway security arrangements in place since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States - echoed a hold-up at Arlanda airport, near Stockholm, in 2002. Then, £3.2m was stolen inn very similar circumstances. No one was jailed for the crime.