Drunken Passenger Causes Hijack Scare on Virgin Bali Flight

A drunk passenger on board a Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. plane to Indonesia caused a hijack scare after trying to enter the cockpit.

The Boeing Co. 737-800 aircraft en route from Brisbane, Australia, with 137 travelers and seven crew landed safely in Bali at 3:16 p.m. local time, Australia’s second-largest airline said in a statement today. The Australian passenger, Matt Lockley, 28, was taken into custody, said Julius Adravida Barata, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation. The passenger was unarmed, and at no point was the safety of others on board ever in question, Virgin said in its statements.

An hour before Flight VA41 was due to land, Indonesian authorities received preliminary information that the aircraft had been hijacked, Barata said. The cockpit was never breached, said Jacqui Abbott, a spokeswoman for the airline.

Aviation security officials are on alert across Asia after a Malaysian Airline System Bhd. aircraft vanished from radar screens March 8 with 239 people on board, with no debris yet to be found. The number of incidents involving unruly passengers has jumped 12-fold in four years, leaving airlines wading through local laws for offenses ranging from verbal tirades to punch-ups and rape threats, according to the International Air Transport Association.

‘Stay Vigilant’

“This incident provides a fresh reminder for the aviation industry that it should stay vigilant on security and safety issues,” Chappy Hakim, a former air chief marshal of the Indonesian air force, said by phone. “This is a good lesson for us to assess how a drunk person could be on board a plane.”

The Virgin jet was cordoned off after landing, the ministry spokesman said. Initial reports that the plane was hijacked were incorrect, said Emma King, a spokeswoman for the airline. The plane had one unruly passenger, she said.

“There’s no problem with other passengers, everything in the plane is normal, and now the airport is back to normal,” Barata said by phone.

IATA figures show that incidents of unruliness surged to more than 6,000 in 2011 from about 500 in 2007. As technological advances make planes ever-safer, with just 17 fatal accidents and 224 deaths in 2013, the rising tide of on-board conflicts reflects not only the ubiquity of flying and a more systematic collection of data, but also real behavioral changes, IATA said in January.

On April 18, two passengers on board Air Berlin Flight AB7446 from Duesseldorf, Germany to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic started an argument. The pilot decided to turn the plane around and landed at Cologne airport to avoid escalation and the two passengers were removed, according to Melanie Schyja, a spokeswoman for the carrier.

The two passengers will never be allowed to board an Air Berlin plane again and the company is evaluating whether to ask them for compensation for the incident, she said last week.

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