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Panic as pilot sends hijack alert by mistake on Delhi-Srinagar flight

Roughly half an hour into the journey, the pilot accidentally pressed the hijack code following which security agencies were alerted.

delhi Updated: Jun 11, 2019 05:13 IST
Anvit Srivastava
Anvit Srivastava
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
delhi-srinagar,delhi-srinagar flight,air asia
The plane had left the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) at 6.30am. Image used for representational purpose only.(airasia.com)

The pilot of a Delhi to Srinagar Air Asia flight on Sunday morning sent a hijack alert to the air traffic control by mistake when she detected a technical glitch in the plane engine, triggering panic among security agencies. The plane, carrying 175 passengers and six crew members, made an emergency landing in Chandigarh at 7.35am. The passengers were later flown to Srinagar by another flight, officials said.

The plane had left the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) at 6.30am. Roughly half an hour into the journey, the pilot accidentally pressed the hijack code following which security agencies were alerted.

A Central Industrial Security Force (CRPF) official, not authorised to speak to the media, said the pilot, on detecting a glitch in the engine, accidentally entered 7500 – the hijacking code. The alert was received by the Chandigarh air traffic control (ARC), which then conveyed it to IGIA’s operation control centre and then to the CISF, the Delhi Police, the National Security Guard and other agencies. “Since Chandigarh was the nearest airport, the flight was provided a slot on priority and it made a safe landing,” said the officer.

An official from the directorate general of civil aviation said they were aware of the incident and are conducting a probe.

Also read: Thunderstorm in Mumbai; 11 flights diverted as airport partially suspends ops

When contacted, Air Asia said the flight had encountered a technical problem en route. “The crew took all necessary actions and the flight had to be diverted to Chandigarh. We are working with regulatory bodies to assist with the investigation of this incident,” said an airline spokesperson.

“The flight from Chandigarh to Srinagar departed at 4.40pm the same day. We reiterate that we place safety and security foremost in all aspects of operations and apologise for the inconvenience caused,” the airline said in a statement.

An officer from Delhi’s ATC said every aircraft has specific codes for emergencies such as hijackings, communication (radio) failures and other situations. The officer said the pilot pressed the wrong code. The moment the transponder releases any of these codes, the radar highlights the plane and ground controllers are alerted, an ATC official, not authorised to speak to the media, said.

The Delhi-Srinagar route is among the most sensitive air routes, based on threat perceptions. Sky marshals are at times deployed on some of the flights on this route, who are the only line of defence between passengers and hijackers.

“As per protocol, our security units were in place. The pilot, while landing, may have told the Chandigarh ATC that the alert was sent accidentally and that there was no reason to panic. However, an alert cannot be ignored once it is sent, unless security agencies give a clearance after inspection. Our CISF teams were ready at the Chandigarh airport to deal with any emergency,” said a senior CISF officer, who did not wish to be named.

First Published: Jun 11, 2019 05:13 IST