ANKARA, Turkey – 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 stealthily detained after a four-hour standoff on a plane full of passengers, an official said.
The hijacking drama came as the Winter Olympics opened in the Russian resort city, with thousands of athletes from around the world pouring into the tightly secured stadium amid warnings the games could be a terrorism target.
A Turkish F-16 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, according to NTV television. 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.
He said the suspected hijacker was arrested after a standoff 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. 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. Mutlu said there was no indication that the man was a member of a terror organization, and Mutlu did not give his name.
The governor said the man was slightly injured during the struggle when he was detained, but no weapons were used, he said. The private Dogan news agency said later that the man was taken to a hospital for his injuries.
The Interfax news agency cited the Ukrainian Security Service, the country’s main security agency, as saying the passenger was in a state of severe alcohol intoxication. Mutlu said the man was not drunk but said he may have taken substances to help him remain alert. He did not elaborate.
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.
Olympic organizers introduced blanket screening of all visitors, requiring them to share passport details to get a Winter Games spectator pass.