Drama on flight MH128 as passengers helped to take down ‘bomber’ who threatened to blow up the plane.
- Drunk Sri Lankan man tried to enter cockpit
- At least 8 passengers overpowered ‘bomber’
- ‘Bomb’ turned out to be powerbank
- Security personnel boarded cabin in body armour
Malaysia Airlines flight MH128 from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur departed at 11.11pm local time but was forced to turn back after the captain was alerted by cabin crew to a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit while threatening to “blow up” the plane.
The incident happened about 10 minutes into the flight. The Airbus A330 landed safely back at Melbourne airport around 30 minutes after take-off. About an hour later, police boarded the plane and detained the man.
Passengers said they knew something was wrong when the 25-year-old Sri Lankan from Dandenong stood up from his seat while the plane was still taking off. They described the device he was carrying as something they had never seen before, but which resembled a “boom box”.
Malaysia’s deputy transport minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said the man claimed to have a bomb.
“It was not a bomb but a powerbank,” he added, saying the man appeared to be drunk.
At least eight passengers tackled the man to the ground, pinned him to the floor and hog-tied him.
Former Melbourne AFL footballer Andrew Leoncelli, who was on board, related how he tried to stop the alleged bomber.
“We literally took off, 10 minutes into the take-off, and I was sitting in business class 4A seat, and I could hear this idiot saying that he wanted to go in and see the pilot,” he told 3AW.
“The staff were saying ‘sit back down sir, sit back down sir’.
“He goes, ‘no, I’m not going to sit back down – I’m going to blow the plane up’.
Leoncelli said the man was holding a large black device.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the size of a watermelon, it was huge, it was black.
“It had two sort of like antennae stuff coming off it, but it also looked like it had an iPhone jack in it, so it could have been just like a beatbox thing,” he said.
He said he confronted the man, who ran towards the back of the plane, where a group of other male passengers restrained him.
“We sat on the tarmac for an hour and 20 minutes waiting for the police to come and we were praying that it wasn’t a bomb,” he said.
He described how ‘tense’ it was when heavily armed officers finally boarded.
Passenger Selena Brown said, “We were only 10 minutes into the flight when I could hear a scuffle behind me.”
“The next thing I know, there’s a man running up the other side saying ‘I’ve got a bomb’.
“My heart went into my throat.
“People were screaming, and then he was jumped on.
“It took over an hour (for police to arrive). We were told 10 minutes but it was over an hour.
“It was really disappointing because we weren’t updated all the time. We could see police from the plane, but they weren’t coming on to the plane and we didn’t know why.”
Brown described the actions of the men who jumped on the man as heroic.
“They were pretty big, burly guys, and they weren’t letting him get away with saying something like that,” she said.
Passengers Stan and Pam Young were angry they were not evacuated sooner.
“If there was a bomb on that plane we should have been communicated (to)…instead, we sat there for another hour and a half.
“There was no communication.
“They literally left us waiting and wondering.”
Other passengers have spoken of their terror as the man was wrestled to the ground and were relieved to be off the plane.
A woman named Vanessa told the 3AW programme her boyfriend had confronted the passenger as he tried to enter the cockpit.
“He was the one who first confronted him when an air hostess was getting scared of this guy and that’s when the guy said ‘I’m going to blow up this plane’,” she said.
Dramatic photographs taken by passengers on board showed heavily armed security personnel in body armour entering the cabin.
Malaysia Airlines stressed that the aircraft was not “hijacked” at any point, adding that passengers had been safely disembarked.
The man is believed to have a history of mental illness.