Cockpit crew of an Air National Jetstream 32 turboprop operating on behalf of Air New Zealand have sustained knife wounds after a female passenger allegedly tried to take control of the aircraft.
The turboprop was operating Flight NZ2279 from Blenheim to Christchurch today on behalf of Air New Zealand’s Eagle Air subsidiary with seven passengers and two Air National cockpit crew onboard.
A New Zealand police statement says a 33 year-old woman of African descent allegedly approached the cockpit with a knife, injuring both pilots and a female passenger. It adds that the woman also attempted to take control of the aircraft, threatened fellow passengers and claimed there was a bomb onboard.
New Zealand police say: “The suspect has been arrested and charged with hijacking, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and [two counts of] injuring with intent to injure. The hijacking charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.”
The aircraft involved in the incident is identified by Air New Zealand as an Air National Jetstream.
Air New Zealand says: “Air New Zealand confirms that an incident occurred this morning onboard flight NZ2279 from Blenheim to Christchurch. On arrival into Christchurch a passenger was taken into police custody. None of the seven passengers were injured and the Air National Jetstream 32 aircraft landed safely.”
The airline says the two cockpit crew were sent to Christchurch hospital for medical attention and all onboard are being interviewed by police and New Zealand aviation security squad Avsec.
Air New Zealand Group short-haul airline general manager Bruce Parton says: “Today’s incident, although a one-off, has naturally given us cause to conduct a thorough review of our safety and security systems and processes on regional domestic flights.
“As part of this review we will be working closely with the relevant authorities, such as the CAA and Avsec.”
In a detailed description of the incident, New Zealand police say the suspect was seated at the front of the aircraft, directly behind the bulkhead. The police report says about 10 minutes into the flight, shortly after the aircraft had levelled off, the suspect reportedly became agitated and approached the cockpit.
The captain sustained a cut to his hand and told his first officer that the suspect had a knife, although details remain sketchy as the captain has been undergoing surgery. The first officer contacted air traffic control, sending a mayday message and alerting them of a suspected hijacking.
The police report says: “Two passengers attempted to calm the woman but were repelled by her and as a consequence, one female passenger received a cut to her hand.”
For the remainder of the flight the suspect stood directly behind the pilots at the bulkhead, knife in hand, until the aircraft entered the descent on approach to Christchurch Airport.
The report says: “The suspect interfered with the aircraft control panel and physically moved the aircraft controls. As part of the descent process the pilots made a turn and the suspect lost balance and was no longer able to interfere with the controls. She became silent but continued to have the knife in her possession.”
Due to weather conditions, the descent and landing were rough, but the aircraft landed safely and came to a halt on the runway. The passengers disembarked through the exit door at the rear of the aircraft.
It continues: “The co-pilot, standing by the exit, saw the pilot wrestling with the suspect on the floor of the aircraft while still in possession of the knife. The co-pilot assisted the pilot to disarm the suspect and in doing so the co-pilot's foot was cut. He did however disarm the suspect and threw the knife outside the aircraft.
“Police boarded the aircraft and took control of the suspect. When searched another knife was located in the footwear of the suspect.”
Air National CEO Jason Gray says: “[The pilots] did an amazing job, which reflects their high level of training and professionalism. We are currently providing them and their families with all necessary support.”