A MALAYSIA Airlines jet was forced to return to Melbourne after a passenger reportedly tried to enter the cockpit, claiming to have explosives.
Brave passengers tackled the man about 20 minutes into flight MH128 that departed Melbourne for Kuala Lumpur at 11.11pm.
The Airbus A330 landed back at Melbourne Airport without incident.
Former Melbourne AFL footballer Andrew Leoncelli, who was on the flight, told how he tried to stop the man.
“We literally took off, 10 minutes into the take off, and I was sitting in business class 4A seat, and I could hear this idiot saying that he wanted to go in and see the pilot,” he told 3AW.
“The staff were saying ‘sit back down sir, sit back down sir’.
“He goes, ‘no, I’m not going to sit back down – I’m going to blow the plane up’.”
Mr Leoncelli said once they landed safely, passengers were kept on the plane on the tarmac for more than an hour before police boarded.
“We sat on the tarmac for an hour and 20 minutes waiting for the police to come and we were praying that it wasn’t a bomb,” he said.
Passengers Stan and Pam Young, flying on to London, were angry they were not evacuated sooner.
“If there was a bomb on that plane we should have been communicated (to) … instead, we sat there for another hour and a half.
“There was no communication.
“They literally left us waiting and wondering.”
Police would not go into detail about the moments after the plane landed, citing “operational matters”.
“I’m not going to go into specifics of times at this point,” Victoria Police Superintendent Tony Langdon said.
“As I was saying, these are operational matters.”
Australian Federal Police Superintendent Martin Goode said: “The safety of passengers is paramount, and we need to consider a number of options, and Victoria Police was handling that side of things, in discussion with us, and we needed to make sure that all contingencies were covered.”
Other passengers have told of their terror as the man was restrained.
Victoria Police say a 25-year-old Australian citizen from Dandenong in Melbourne’s southeast is in custody.
The man allegedly responsible, being interviewed by AFP and Victoria Police, is believed to have a history of mental illness.
Supt Langdon said the “device” the man was holding was “obviously not an explosive device” but would not go into further detail.
He said members from the Special Operations Group detained the man after the flight was turned back to Melbourne.
“Approximately four kilometres out from Melbourne Airport a male from economy has left his seat and shouted that he had a bomb and tried to move towards the cockpit area,” Supt Langdon said.
“It appears he tried to gain access to the cockpit and was restrained by passenger and crew.
“The pilot had then invoked their emergency procedures and returned the aircraft to Melbourne Airport.
“We now have that passenger in custody and he is being interviewed by AFP and Victoria Police.”
Melbourne Airport has resumed normal operations but travellers heading to the airport are warned there may still be some delays this morning as airport operations return to normal.
Travellers are urged to contact airlines for the latest information.
The Malaysia Airlines plane has been moved to a secure area.
Melbourne Airport was placed in lockdown soon after the incident with flights resuming at 2.30am.
Incoming aircraft were diverted to Avalon Airport.
MH128 passengers are still at Melbourne Airport.
Supt Langdon added: “We don’t believe it is terrorist related at this stage.
“Investigations are obviously still going on.
“We believe the male, the 25-year-old male from Dandenong, has acted alone.
“We are currently finalising our process of investigation of the passengers and the crew.
“It’s an electronic object but it was soon recognised not to be an explosive device.
“We are aware that this gentleman has mental health issues.
“I think it is quite heroic by the passengers and the crew to restrain him in the way they’ve done.
“We have done everything we can and I know Malaysian Airlines have done everything they can to try to help get the passengers through this process and be able to return home or get on to other flights.”
In a statement released this morning, Malaysia Airlines says: “MH128, which had departed Melbourne Airport at 11.11pm and was scheduled to arrive Kuala Lumpur at 5.28am on 1 June, made a turn back to Melbourne after the operating Captain was alerted by a cabin crew member of a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit.
“Malaysia Airlines would like to stress that at no point was the aircraft ‘hijacked’.
“MH128 safely landed in Melbourne airport at 11.41pm.
“Following the incident on MH128, the disruptive passenger has been apprehended by airport security.
“Malaysia Airlines together with the Australian authorities will be investigating the incident.
“Safety and security are of utmost priority to Malaysia Airlines.
“The airline wishes to apologise for the inconvenience caused.
“Passengers have safely disembarked the aircraft and will be screened by Australian authorities.
“Affected passengers will be accommodated at hotels.
“They will be offered travel on the next available flight or on other carriers.”
Victoria Police Senior Constable Adam West said police were called to Tullamarine at 11.40pm last night after Malaysia Airlines requested help.
“It is alleged that a man tried to enter the cockpit and threatened the safety of passengers and staff,” he said.
“The man did not gain entry to the cockpit.
“The man was subdued and a safety plan was enacted.”
Mr Leoncelli said the device in the man’s hand was “the size of a watermelon”.
“It was huge, it was black and it had two black antennaes coming off it, but it also looked like an iPhone jack,” he said.
Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester said early information indicated the security screening measures were working ahead of the flight and onboard.
The Minister said there were “very strict” security protocols in place in Australia but said the incident would be reviewed.
He said it was too early to comment on the device the man was holding.
“By all early accounts, the security parameters worked but that doesn’t change the fact it would have been a very worrying time for the passengers and crew on board when the incident occurred,” he told the ABC.
Mr Chester said the incident did not appear to be terrorism-related but rather a mental health issue.
“We are reviewing our security procedures in response to new information, new alerts around the world on an ongoing basis,” he said.
“Obviously the security of the Australian travelling public is the highest priority when it comes to Transport Ministry issues.
“If we receive new information, or there is a new or emerging threat around the world, we assess our protocols accordingly.
“We have outstanding security protocols here in Australia. It is designed to keep the travelling public safe.
“We have to look at this incident and review every aspect of it and then make an assessment about whether any changes need to be made.”
Mr Chester said there were no plans currently to introduce bans on a laptop or large electronic devices on planes similar to bans introduced in the United States and United Kingdom.
Malaysian news service The Star reports Malaysia’s Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Seri Aziz Ab Kaprawi said the device the man was holding was not a bomb.
“It was not a bomb but a powerbank,” he said.
He said the passenger was drunk.
“Malaysia Airlines practises a high level of security and safety, so they turned back,” he said.
“The crew managed to handle the passenger and once they landed, they contacted airport security to have the passenger removed.
“I have no information yet as to whether the plane will be taking off again soon.”
The incident is the latest in a string of incidents to hit the airline in recent years.