ANKARA, Turkey – A Ukrainian passenger on an Istanbul-bound flight claimed Friday there was a bomb on board and tried to hijack the plane to Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics are kicking off, an official said.
An F-16 fighter plane was scrambled as soon as the pilot signaled there was a hijacking attempt and escorted the plane safely to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport, its original destination, according to NTV television.
Turkey’s state-run TRT television said authorities persuaded the man to give himself up and he was taken into police custody, but there was no confirmation from the Transport Ministry.
There were 110 passengers on board the flight from Kharkiv, Ukraine, but it was not immediately clear whether they had evacuated. Authorities were searching the plane.
Habib Soluk, the Turkish Transport Ministry undersecretary, told NTV that the man rose from his seat, shouted there was bomb on board and tried to enter the locked cockpit. The pilot signaled there was a hijack attempt and the airport was placed on high alert.
“The man was made to believe the plane was heading to Sochi,” Soluk said.
The Interfax news agency cited the Ukrainian Security Service, the country’s main security agency, as saying the passenger who tried to hijack the plane was drunk.
The service said in its statement that there were no weapons or bombs on board, but did not say where it got that information.
Pegasus Airlines confirmed in a brief statement there was a “bomb threat” aboard their flight from Kharkiv.
The plane’s captain, Ilyas Karagulle, signaled that the crew was well, according to state-run TRT television.
The plane landed at about 6 p.m. Turkish time, just as the opening ceremony for the Olympics was about to begin. The news broke as athletes from countries around the world poured into the stadium.
With about 100,000 police, security agents and army troops flooding Sochi, Russia has pledged to ensure “the safest Olympics in history.” But terror fears fueled by recent suicide bombings have left athletes, spectators and officials worldwide jittery about potential threats.
Security experts warn that Islamic militants in the Caucasus, who have threatened to derail the Winter Games that run from today to Feb. 23, could achieve their goal by choosing soft targets away from the Olympic sites or even outside Sochi.
Olympic organizers introduced blanket screening of all visitors, requiring them to share passport details to get a Winter Games spectator pass. Officials also cut access to vehicles lacking Sochi registration or a special pass, and guards were searching all train commuters.