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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
India investigates false hijacking
Police surround the hijacked plane at New Delhi's international airport
Police were on alert at Delhi's international airport
The Indian Government has launched an investigation into the reported hijacking of a domestic flight, which turned out to be a false alarm.

The government said the episode was caused by an anonymous phone call and confusion in the Alliance Air jet's cabin and cockpit, insisting that it was not a government-planned security drill.

A passenger disembarking from the
Passengers could leave after the aircraft was stormed by commandos
"This was not a drill. Until 10 minutes ago we thought it was a hijack. It was only when the commandos entered the cockpit that even the pilots realised that it was a false alarm," said Indian Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain.

But some passengers, including an MP from the governing coalition, Chandrakant Kharge, said the pilots had announced the hijacking "was an exercise".

Comedy of errors

The passengers were able to leave the aircraft at Delhi's international airport early on Thursday, after commandos stormed it.

The Boeing 737 of Alliance Air, a domestic subsidiary of Indian Airlines, was on a flight from Bombay to Delhi when it was reported seized by two hijackers.

Mr Hussain said the pilot was told about the phone call and sealed his cockpit door. He then flew the plane to Delhi, skipping the scheduled stop in Ahmadabad.

If this was an exercise, it should not have lasted more than an hour. This has put the whole nation in a state of anxiety and concern

Passenger Chandrakant Kharge, MP
What followed was a comedy of errors, in which the pilots thought the hijackers were in the passenger cabin, while air traffic control and the passengers thought the hijackers were in the cockpit.

Other passengers were phoning their relatives from mobile phones, saying they knew nothing about a hijacking.

Senior Indian cabinet ministers, meanwhile, had convened at the airport for a crisis management meeting.

Police, commandos, ambulances and concerned relatives of passengers converged on the airport.

Security scare

Mr Hussain said the plane was carrying 46 passengers and six crew, revising earlier reports that there were 54 passengers on board.

The plane was taken to an isolated area at Indira Gandhi International Airport and surrounded by police and army after it landed at 0100 on Thursday (1930 GMT Wednesday).

As a precaution, the aircraft's tyres were deflated and a fuel tanker was parked in front of it so it could not take off.

During the crisis, intelligence officials were quoted as saying there were two hijackers on board who "spoke broken English".

It was also reported that these alleged hijackers had asked for flight plans to various areas in northern India and to the cities of Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan.

Pakistan reportedly closed all its airports in light of the reports.

Mr Hussain said a statement with more information would be made later on Thursday.

The world has been on a high security alert since the 11 September attacks in the US, when four planes in US domestic flights were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center's twin towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

India, which has expressed support for US President George W Bush's war on terrorism following the attacks, has been bracing for a retaliatory attack.

The BBC's Frances Harrison
"There is no doubt the Indian government took the threat seriously"
The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava in Delhi
"For some reason the pilot thought it was a real hijack"
See also:

04 Oct 01 | South Asia
India's hoax hijack drama
20 Jan 00 | South Asia
Commandos on Indian flights
03 Oct 01 | World
History of airliner hijackings
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