SA Airlink sorry for false hijack alert
Pretoria – Airlink on Monday evening apologised for the false hijack alert which prompted panic on social media and among passengers of flight SA8678 from Cape Town to Pretoria earlier in the afternoon.
“I want to acknowledge and thank our incredible customers and crew for their patience and calm during what must clearly have been an anxious and distressing time this afternoon,” said Airlink chief executive Rodger Foster.
“The safety and well-being of our customers and staff is our top priority. Although the procedures that had to be followed caused frustration and inconvenience, they enabled the Police’s Special Task Force to take every possible step to ensure that the aircraft and all on board were safe and free of any threat. For the Special Task Force and their dedication to their task, we are thankful.”
Foster said an internal investigation was underway to determine what caused the “erroneous transmission” of the hijack alert from the plane’s transponder.
The airline said it would also assist authorities with their investigation, “which is a mandatory step following such incidents”.
After waiting hours to disembark from the plane which landed safely at the Wonderboom National Airport terminal in Pretoria, passengers hugged and kissed their anxiously waiting families and friends.
“After the plane landed, we waited and waited but there was no word on what was happening. After some time, passengers started going online and they read about this plane that was just stuck on the runway,” said department of arts and culture parliamentary officer Rofhiwe Mudau as he was welcomed by his colleague Peter Mbelengwa.
“The passengers read online that our plane has been hijacked. The captain later came on and said the plane had not been hijacked but the alert was due to a faulty signal that the transponder of the plane was sending.”
Mudau said he was among those who panicked as the plane was idle for hours in a secluded area of the runway.
“I panicked because I didn’t know what was happening. The plane just stopped there, nowhere near the terminal building and we were thinking that anything could happen. We didn’t know what to do and how to feel,” said Mudau.
“From that moment, I wasn’t feeling well.”
Matric student Jacqueline Knott said there was panic among passengers when the captain announced that the police were on their way.
“When the plane landed, we were initially told that we cannot taxi in because there was something on the runway. They said the runway had not been cleared. So the pilot said we had to wait for a few minutes in the aeroplane. Later, the pilot announced that the police will be arriving shortly and we will all be asked to evacuate the aircraft,” said Knott.
“That is when everyone panicked a little bit. We went online and we read about the plane hijacking. The captain assured us that there was no hijacking, that everything was under control and we only had to wait for the police. We waited for hours. We landed before 12pm and now it’s around 4pm.”
Officers from specialised police units descended on Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria after the highjacking alert was raised for an SA Airlink flight from Cape Town though the airline said the warning was a false alert.
The camouflage-donning Special Task Force and the SA Police Air Wing arrived at the scene and pulled on their gear. A section of the airport was cordoned off and police rushed in as television crews, including one from the SABC, filmed. Members of the Tshwane Metro Police Department and paramedics were also at hand.
Anxious members of the public were seen watching the runway after fears were sparked on social media when reports surfaced of an apparent hijacking of the flight early on Monday afternoon.
African News Agency