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December 24, 1999
Hijacked IA plane land at air force base in UAE
Amberish K Diwanji, Josy Joseph, Neena Haridas, Onkar Singh in New Delhi
The hijacked Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 landed at Mindhat military base 12 miles north-west of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates at 0135 IST (1205 local time) after Dubai airport also refused it permission to land. The purported reason for landing at the air base was refuelling.
UAE Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said they would only allow the plane to refuel and wanted it to leave the emirates immediately.
But civil aviation ministry sources said the hijackers had demanded food as well and also offered to offload women and children from the flight. The food has already been delivered.
Since there was no step-ladder available at the Al-Mindhat airport, one is being brought in from Dubai.
Meanwhile, an Airbus 320 is on standby at Delhi international airport, in readiness to leave for Dubai if the situation demands it.
Earlier, Dubai was put on alert as the plane prepared to land there at 0120 IST after the Omani authorities refused to allow it to land in Muscat.
The plane headed for the Gulf after failing to land in Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan, both of which do not have night-landing facilities.
Earlier, Flight IC 814, which was hijacked over Lucknow at 1655 IST today and landed in Lahore at 2007 IST, took off again tonight for an undisclosed destination. Civil Aviation Secretary Ravindra Gupta said the plane was reported to be heading for Kabul, but later it was reported that the plane was heading for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates because Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan do not have night-landing facilities. All Indian embassies in the Gulf region have been alerted.
Earlier, reports said four passengers were shot dead and their bodies were still aboard. But Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav said the commander of the flight, Captain D Saran, who passed on the information to ground controllers, did not see the bodies himself as he was not allowed to leave the cockpit and may have even been told to give out the information to create a scare. And even if a shooting did take place in the aircraft, it would have been with pistols and not AK-47s, he said. Five other passengers were injured in the alleged incident, but the hijackers refused to allow any medical teams to enter the aircraft.
Officials in Amritsar said the hijackers shot the passengers during an argument over the refuelling at the city's Raja Sansi airport.
In Lahore, the aircraft reportedly developed mechanical trouble and the flight engineer came out with one of the hijackers to fix the problem.
The Pakistani authorities were reportedly trying to negotiate with the hijackers even as they were flying out of Pakistan, but there was no response from the plane.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's chief executive, tonight, asking him to take all steps to ensure the safety of the 186 passengers and crew on board.
The Pakistan government has provided Indian High Commissioner Satish Lambah with a helicopter to fly from Islamabad to Lahore, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told reporters tonight. Singh spoke to his counterpart Abdul Sattar asking him to take all steps to guarantee the passengers's safety. The hijackers said they would not harm the women or children on board, the minister said. Efforts are on to establish direct contact with the hijackers.
Sources at Lahore said Pakistan army troops surrounded the plane and stopped all other flights. No one was allowed entry in or out of the airport. Flight 814 "virtually crashlanded" at the airport. All the lights at the airport were switched off before the Airbus landed. According to a BBC report, there was a big bang as the plane landed "in an emergency situation". The plane had very little fuel when it landed. Sources say ambulances were seen driving into the airport.
The hijackers asked Pakistani officials to refuel the flight. Earlier, they were heard asking the IA pilot to fly them to their homeland, giving rise to speculation that they are Kashmiri militants or Afghan mercenaries. They turned down an offer of food and water.
External affairs ministry officials earlier got in touch with the Pakistan foreign secretary in Islamabad and the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi, and asked them to allow the flight to land at Lahore.
The plane was flying from Kathmandu to New Delhi when it was hijacked. Unconfirmed reports quoting air traffic controllers in Kathmandu said gunfire was heard on the plane there itself.
The five hijackers demanded that the pilot fly the plane to Pakistan, IA Chief Public Relations Officer R N Pathak told rediff.com
IA official Uma Kant Pandey said the plane landed at Amritsar at 1900 hours after the Pakistan government refused it permission to land at Lahore. It was immediately surrounded by commandos of the National Security Guard and paramilitary forces.
The plane had almost run out of fuel when it landed in Amritsar. Union Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar ordered the Amritsar airport authorities not to refuel the aircraft, and after a wait of 25 minutes, the plane took off again.
Media reports said the five hijackers, who were speaking in "Hindustani," were carrying AK-47 rifles, grenades and pistols.
There are 174 passengers and four infants on the flight that left Kathmandu at 1615 hours (150 of them are Indians, four Swiss, four Spanish, 1 Belgian, 1 Canadian, 8 Nepalese and five others whose nationalities are not known). There are 106 men, 57 women and 11 children. It was scheduled to land in Delhi at 1725 hours. Heading the 11-member crew is Captain D Saran. Captain Rajender is the second in command. No one has so far claimed responsibility for the hijacking.
Acrimonious scenes were witnessed at Delhi airport as relatives of the passengers on Flight 814 besieged Indian Airlines officials for details. The relatives were upset with IA's reluctance to provide information.
A team of senior police and civil aviation officials led by Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chaman Lal Gupta is at Delhi airport, monitoring the situation.
The Crisis Management Group headed by the prime minister is monitoring the situation at his home along with Home Minister L K Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav. Yadav and his deputy Chaman Lal Gupta are in the control room at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi monitoring the situation. Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani is at the control room at Safdarjung Airport, also in New Delhi.
Yadav said the government had not received any demands yet from the hijackers and the only communication with the plane was through the pilot, Captain Saran. But even he is unable to communicate the condition of the passengers because he has been under threat in the cockpit ever since the drama began.
Yadav added that the government is trying its best to open a channel of negotiations with the hijackers through several countries, including those whose nationals are trapped aboard Flight 814.
Meanwhile, the government has cancelled all Indian flights to Kathmandu. No Indian flight will operate to Kathmandu unless security at the Nepalese capital is guaranteed, an official said. Indian aviation officials say lax security at the Tribhuvan international airport allowed the hijackers to board the aircraft with weapons.
The prime minister has also requested that all birthday celebrations planned for him be cancelled. Vajpayee turns 75 tomorrow.
Additional reporting: Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Contact numbers at Delhi airport for information:
011-565-2011 (Extension 2508)
011-565-2011 (Extension 2508)
Click here for the list of passengers on the hijacked plane
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