By Suzan Fraser
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.
“Our security units sneaked through various entrances during the evacuation of the passengers and with a quick and effective intervention the hijacker was subdued,” Mutlu said. 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 immediate indication that the man was a member of any terrorist organization and Mutlu did not give his name.
“We were receiving through various channels information that there could be initiatives to sabotage the spirit of peace arising in Sochi, but we are saddened that such an event took place in our city,” Mutlu said.
The governor said the man was being held at Istanbul police headquarters. 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.