Etihad Airways PJSC said a Boeing Co. 777 plane that diverted to Jakarta was forced to land after smoke was detected in its lavatories, with passengers reporting that fires had been deliberately set by other travelers.
Smoke was identified in two of the wide-body jet’s toilets after it left Melbourne, prompting the landing in Indonesia, Etihad said today. The flight resumed after a security search, only for a further alarm to sound two hours from its final destination of Abu Dhabi, where Etihad is based.
“Crew continued to monitor and secure toilet access for the remainder of the flight,” Etihad said in a statement, adding that customers and staff were interviewed by local police after the plane arrived in the Gulf some four hours late.
Passengers from the 777-300ER, which can carry 330 people in a three-class layout, gave accounts of the flight suggesting the smoke resulted from deliberate acts of sabotage. Jay Cummins, director of Australia-based International Agriculture for Development, e-mailed Bloomberg to say he was on the flight and understood “three delayed incendiary devices” were left in the toilets, causing fires that were extinguished by cabin crew.
“The plane should never have been allowed to leave Jakarta with the culprit, terrorist, whoever he was, allowed back on the plane,” Cummins said, adding that when the third fire started about four hours out of Indonesia the cabin was filled with a smell of burnt plastic.
The incident gained prominence on social media, with Norwegian professional golfer Caroline Martens, who was heading home from the Australian Masters tournament, tweeting that an “idiot” had “set the plane on fire.”
Etihad said safety is its No. 1 priority and that the captain of the flight, EY461, had diverted to Jakarta as a precautionary measure in order to allow authorities there to conduct a security assessment. The aircraft, passengers and carry-on luggage were searched while the plane was on the ground and controls over movement around the cabin imposed.
The third smoke alarm sounded while crew were preparing a meal service, and that had to be discontinued to allow them to guard the toilets, the carrier said in the statement. Aircraft washrooms are fitted with detectors to help enforce in-flight bans on lighting cigarettes.
“The events that occurred during the flight remain under investigation and Etihad Airways is assisting the authorities to complete this as soon as possible,” it said.
PT Angkasa Pura II, the state-owned operator of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport, had no comment, a spokesman said.