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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
India's hoax hijack drama
Father hugs his daughter in arrivals area
Passengers were greeted by worried relatives
An anonymous phone call triggered the "hijack drama" that awoke the Indian prime minister, sent senior ministers into crisis meetings and put airports on high alert.

The Alliance Air 737 had already left Bombay bound for Delhi when the mystery caller told air traffic control (ATC) that the flight had been hijacked.

Shortly after midnight ATC contacted the pilots, who thought there were hijackers among the passengers. As a precaution, they locked the cockpit door.

This action then prompted India's Civil Aviation Secretary A H Jang to describe the non-existent hijackers as dangerous.

The pilots thought the hijackers were in the passenger cabin and the passengers thought the hijackers were in the cockpit

Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain

He said they were "menacing enough for the pilots not to open the cockpit doors".

The plane landed at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport at 0100 early Thursday (2130 GMT Wednesday).

Passengers remained aboard the jet, which was parked at an isolated area and encircled by police, ambulances and commandos.

The tyres were lowered and trucks were parked in front of the aircraft to block any attempts at take-off.

Nation on alert

By then, airports across the country had been placed on high alert.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had been briefed and Interior Minister L K Advani was locked in crisis talks with other senior ministers.

Meanwhile, a local TV station was reporting that authorities had opened a communications link with the hijackers.

Civil aviation ministry officials told reporters that the two hijackers were males "who spoke little English" and "have something in their hands".

Delhi police officer frisks airport employee
Indian airports were on high alert
Intelligence officials also told The Associated Press that the pair had asked for flight plans for Karachi and Lahore, in Pakistan. They were also said to have requested two engineers.

Officials in Lucknow, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from India's border with Nepal, were reportedly instructed to go to the local airport in case the plane went there. Commandos were also sent in.

Pakistan Government officials were quoted as saying that all airports in Pakistan had been instructed not to let the plane land. They said airports had been placed on high alert and that extra troops had been sent to the international airport in the capital, Islamabad.

It was only when commandos stormed the plane and entered the cockpit that the mistake was discovered.

Confused passengers were then permitted to leave the aircraft.

Hijack history

Delhi stepped up flight security in the wake of a hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight on 24 December 1999.

Indian officials won the release of 170 passengers in exchange for releasing several jailed pro-Kashmiri Muslim separatists.

Among them was Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group which initially claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack on Monday in Srinagar, Kashmir.

The group later denied involvement in the attack, which resulted in the deaths of 38 people.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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 investigates false hijacking
20 Jan 00 | South Asia
Commandos on Indian flights
03 Oct 01 | World
History of airliner hijackings
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