CPI(M) MLA stages protest outside station

Amidst a minor political protest, the city police on Thursday recorded the statements of six air-passengers whose behaviour had impelled the captain of an Air India Express flight that landed here from Abu Dhabi on Friday last to transmit a “hijack alert” to the international airport’s air traffic control (ATC) tower.

The police had earlier issued notices to Abdul Khadar Rasheed of Malappuram; and Augustine Joseph, Thomson Jose Arackal, A. Abdul Khadar, Sivan Manoj and Syed Muhammad Ashraf, all from Kochi; to appear before them.

They arrived at the Valiathura police station at 12.10 p.m. along with K.V. Abdul Khadar, Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator from Guruvayur.

The MLA enquired whether the air-passengers would be arrested. The police said the investigation was in a preliminary stage and they could only decide later whether arrest was required in the case.

The MLA staged a “sit-in” on the steps of the police station. He left the station along with the passengers at around 2 p.m.

The police said the air-passengers denied that they had entered the cockpit. The165 passengers were harried that they could not reach their destination, Kochi, even though they had waited for several hours strapped to their seats.

They had boarded the flight late on Thursday night, Abu Dhabi local time, and had landed in Thiruvananthapuram at 6.30 a.m. local time on Friday instead of 3.30 a.m. local time in Kochi. Inclement weather had reportedly forced the pilot to divert the flight to Thiruvananthapuram.

The passengers told the police that trouble erupted when the airline crew switched off the air-conditioning inside the cabin at around 8 a.m. The cabin became too warm for comfort and the air inside it turned stale. Tempers rose when the airline crew announced the flight had ended and passengers would have to find their way back to Kochi on their own.

The air-passengers told the police that the airline crew did not serve them any refreshments or water and the taps inside the aircraft’s toilet had run dry. They said the situation worsened when it was announced that the captain would disembark the flight as her duty hours had ended. This prompted some of the passengers to move towards the front of the plane and an argument ensued between them and the airline crew, including the pilot, outside the door that led to the cockpit.

The passengers admitted that there were heated exchanges but vehemently denied that any of them had “trespassed” into the cockpit, threatened to kill the pilot or caused a “hijack-like” situation.