Hijack drama as police arrest knifeman on plane

Justin Huggler,Hannah Cleaver
Tuesday 19 October 1999 23:00 BST
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A knife-wielding hijacker took control of an EgyptAir flight after take-off from Istanbul last night. He took 47 passengers and six crew members hostage. Their ordeal ended after four hours when the man was arrested after the Boeing 737 landed at Hamburg airport.

A knife-wielding hijacker took control of an EgyptAir flight after take-off from Istanbul last night. He took 47 passengers and six crew members hostage. Their ordeal ended after four hours when the man was arrested after the Boeing 737 landed at Hamburg airport.

The Arabic-speaking hijacker went into the cockpit just after the plane took off from Turkey on its way to Cairo. He demanded to be taken to Hamburg, then changed his mind and told the crew to fly to London. Stansted airport was told to be ready for the arrival of the Boeing 747-500.

The pilot, Captain Hazem Abadi, told the hijacker that the plane did not have enough fuel to reach London. The aircraft landed at Hamburg, where German police said they were prepared for "any eventuality." Minutes later, the hijacker, whose motives are unknown, was arrested on the Tarmac, after the aircraft parked a quarter of a mile away from the main terminal area. It was not clear whether he surrendered voluntarily.

A Hamburg airport spokeswoman said all the passengers were safe. But the co-pilot sustained a slight neck injury while resisting the hijacker.

Turkish television reported that the hijacker spoke in Arabic, but repeatedly denied that he was an Arab. The man also reportedly insisted he was not a terrorist. Security on EgyptAir, which flies daily from Istanbul to Cairo, includes sky marshals who routinely travel on its flights and assist with pre-boarding baggage checks.

The last hijack involving EgyptAir was in March 1996 when a domestic flight from Luxor to Cairo was diverted to Libya with 140 passengers on board. The hijacker, said to be mentally unstable, released the passengers and gave himself up.

Last night, the Turkish Transport Minister, Enis Oksuz, said of the latest incident: "It seems to be the act of a madman, some young fool seeking adventure."

There were three hijackings in Turkey in the last year, all of them on domestic flights, suggesting that Turkish airports are becoming dangerous places to fly from. Nobody was killed, but a plane had to be stormed by special forces when it was commandeered by a supporter of Kurdish rebels last year.

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