A Ukrainian man tried to hijack a Turkey-bound flight to Sochi, Russia, as the Winter Olympics were kicking off Friday, but the pilot tricked him and landed in Istanbul instead, where he was arrested after a four-hour stand-off on a plane full of passengers, an official said.
The hijacking drama came as the Winter Olympics opened in the Russian city, with thousands of athletes from around the world amid serious warnings of terrorist attempts.
Turkish F-16s fighter was scrambled as soon as the pilot on the Pegasus Airlines flight from Kharkiv, Ukraine, with 110 passengers aboard signaled there was a hijacking attempt. It escorted the plane safely to its original destination at Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul.
Officials credited the pilot and crew for convincing the 45-year-old-man, who claimed he had a bomb, that they were following his wishes.
“Through a very successful implementation by our pilot and crew, the plane was landed in Istanbul instead of Sochi,” Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters at the airport. “He thought it was going to Sochi but after a while he realized that (the plane) was in Istanbul.”
The hijacker was arrested after a stand-off during which a negotiator convinced him to first allow women and children to be evacuated and later agreed to let all other passengers off the plane as well.
“Our security units sneaked through various entrances during the evacuation of the passengers and with a quick and effective intervention the hijacker was subdued,” Mutlu said. No bomb was found, he said.
The man’s motive was unclear, but Mutlu said he had “requests concerning his own country” and wanted to relay a “message concerning sporting activities in Sochi.”
“We were receiving through various channels information that there could be initiatives to sabotage the spirit of peace arising in Sochi, but we are saddened that such an event took place in our city,”
Habib Soluk, the Turkish Transport Ministry undersecretary, told NTV earlier that the man rose from his seat, shouted that there was bomb on board and tried to enter the locked cockpit. The pilot signaled that there was a hijack attempt and the airport was placed on high alert.
Air traffic at Sabiha Gokcen was halted throughout the incident but had returned to normal after the man’s arrest.
The plane landed at about 6 p.m. Turkish time, just as the opening ceremony for the Olympics was about to begin. The executive creative director of the Olympics opening ceremony told reporters afterward he heard of the threat but didn’t alter the show’s plans in any way.