Words No Pilot Wants To Hear: "Take Me To Maputo"
Take this plane to
Maputo. That's the message a 21-year-old Zimbabwean national
and student at the University of Cape Town had for the pilots of a
South African Airways (SAA) flight he tried to hijack Saturday.
The would-be hijacker tried to gain entry into the cockpit, in
an attempt to divert the plane to Mozambique's capital. Media
reports from the area say the man stabbed an off-duty pilot in the
hand with a hypodermic needle before the pilot and two other
passengers tackled and subdued him.
The hijack drama began about 35 minutes after South African
Flight 322 took-off from Cape Town International Airport at 09:40
am headed for Johannesburg. After the incident, the flight returned
to Cape Town where police stormed aboard and apprehended the
Cape Town photographer Roger Sedres, 37, was seated next to the
suspected hijacker. He said the well-dressed, bespectacled man had
acted strangely from the time he boarded.
"He kept on fiddling with his phone and putting his hand in his
pockets," Sedres said. "He did not say a word or greet me."
Sedres knew immediately an attempted hijacking was in progress
when the man suddenly got up from his row 22 aisle seat, walked
towards the front of the plane and grabbed a flight attendant.
The man, who has so far only been identified as "Tinashe" or
"Tanish," was immediately tackled and subdued. Witnesses say the
entire incident lasted five minutes.
South African police have ruled out any links to terror groups
and now believe the man has history of mental illness.
While airport screening
lapses were immediately called into question, none were immediately
evident. Deidre Hendricks, a spokesperson for Airports Company
South Africa (ACSA), said syringes are allowed onboard South
African flights for health reasons. ACSA is responsible for the
security screening of passengers on SAA flights.
The last time South Africa had an aircraft hijacking was in
1972, when an SAA Boeing 727 was hijacked en route from Durban to
Johannesburg. Two hijackers finally surrendered at Chileka Airport
However, South African officials are concerned Saturday's
attempted hijacking will further harm the reputation of South
African airports. "[Our] airports, unfortunately, have in recent
months earned a less than favorable reputation for lost and stolen
luggage, while a number of daring robberies have taken place,"
Democratic Alliance transport spokesman Stuart Farrow told
Independent News & Media on Sunday.
"South Africa will host the Soccer World Cup in 2010," Farrow
added, "and we need to show the world that our airspace and our
planes are safe and secure."
SAA has not issued a statement about the ill-fated flight.