The trouble started at 7am when the flight landed at the capital city airport after it was diverted from Kochi. When the passengers, who numbered about 150, were asked by the airline authorities to go by road to Kochi, which is nearly 220km or five hours from here, on their own after making them wait for half-an-hour in the flight to return to its original destination.
They said that the flight could not proceed further as the duty time of the pilot was over. “When that announcement was made, we protested. That was all we did. We said that the crew could leave if it had done its hours, but we needed other crew members to take charge,” an irate passenger said.
The angry passengers refused to disembark the aircraft and staged protests inside. They also prevented the pilot and the crew from leaving the aircraft. As the protests continued, the pilot triggered the hijack alarm.
The pilot’s action triggered panic among the passengers and at the airport. Authorities swung into action. The Central Industrial Security (CISF) personnel surrounded the aircraft and a high-level team of state police officials led by Director General of Police C Subramaniam arrived at the airport.
The security personnel later entered the aircraft and evacuated the passengers, who included several children and pregnant women. The passengers said they had a harrowing time inside the aircraft as the air condition was put off and they ran out of water and food.
The seven-hour drama at Trivandrum came to an end around 2pm after the flight left for its original destination at Cochin with a new crew following intervention by State Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan and senior officials.
The drama shifted to Cochin as six passengers were detained by the CISF when the flight arrived there at 2.40pm for questioning on the basis of a written complaint lodged by the pilot.
The complaint lodged with the state police and the airport authorities said that the six passengers entered the cockpit and threatened to kill her. This, as per the complaint, amounted to a bid to hijack the flight. The six passengers were allowed to go after some 50 passengers refused to leave the airport without the six fellow passengers and the chief minister assured that the matter will be looked into by the director-general of police. In the meantime, the CISF personnel evicted the protesters from the airport by force. The Chennai regional office of Director General of Civil Aviation has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
A Press release issued by the CM’s office said the allegation regarding the hijack bid appeared baseless. The protests following diversion of the flight and the subsequent delay were the natural reaction of the passengers, the release added.
The fellow passengers denied the version of the pilot. The passengers said some of them had only staged protests outside the cockpit. They said that this could be confirmed from the voice recordings available at the cockpit.
The security officials had also made an attempt to arrest some of the passengers at the Trivandrum airport on hijacking bid and other charges. But the move was dropped after the entire passengers raised protests.
Flight IX 4422 to Cochin was scheduled to depart Abu Dhabi at 10.30pm on Thursday, but left only at 12.30am. It was supposed to land at Cochin at 3.30am. The passengers said the pilot had announced the diversion after attempted landing.
When the flight landed at Trivandrum at 6.30pm, the pilot had informed that it will return to Cochin within half-an-hour. Protests erupted when the pilot tried to leave and the crew asked the passengers to disembark.
Many passengers vowed never again to fly Air India. “The aircraft took off close to three hours late. We were not even given water to drink until today. Three passengers were beaten up by security personnel at Thiruvananthapuram airport. We will never again travel Air India Express, and we will offer the same advice to others,” said a passenger after landing at Kochi.
Some passengers complained that they were stranded at the Kochi airport, as security officials had taken their passports.
“They took our passports and noted something. Most of us are on a very short holiday. Look at the soup we’ve landed in, for no fault of ours. The government has done nothing to come to our aid,” said another passenger.
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