Victoria Police originally thought there was more than one terror threat on board Malyasia Airlines flight MH128 to Kuala Lumpur, so they waited up to 90 minutes before special operations officers stormed the plane.
A 25-year-old Sri Lankan national, living in Dandenong and on a student visa, was arrested early on Thursday morning following the overnight drama.
“He had been released from psychiatric care from the Monash Medical Centre (on Wednesday), and from there, we believe he has purchased a ticket on this plane,” Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
About 30 minutes into the late night Wednesday flight, the man claimed to have explosives in a device that one witness said looked like a “boombox”.
As he tried to move toward the cockpit, passengers grabbed him and tied him up while the flight returned to Melbourne.
Former AFL player Andrew Leoncelli told 3AW the man screamed: “I’ve got a bomb and I’m going to f***ing blow the plane up” before flight attendants and other passengers tackled and restrained him.
Passengers criticised the length of time they had to wait on the tarmac not knowing if there was a bomb on the plane or not.
“If there was a bomb on that plane we should have been evacuated from it. Instead we sat there,” passenger Stan Young told reporters.
But Ashton said there were initial reports about there being possibly more than one offender or device on board.
“(I) absolutely understand if you are on a plane in that situation, it could seem like a long wait,” he said.
“We have to make sure all possibilities are taken into account, including the possibilities of co-offenders, or, if there was an explosive device, the possibility of there being other explosive devices where the sudden removal of the passengers could cause difficulty.”
Passengers tackled man who ‘threatened to blow up Malaysia Airlines Flight MH128’ – The Sydney Morning… https://t.co/cn6HBUygMA #news pic.twitter.com/imaCyRKngV
— News Js Australia (@NewsjsAU) May 31, 2017
The airline said the man was apprehended by airport security after the plane landed and was sent to a remote part of the airport.
All other flights were diverted to Avalon, near Geelong, with Melbourne Airport in lockdown at the time.
Ashton said the man was being interviewed by Victorian and federal police, and he was expected to face Melbourne Magistrates’ Court later on Thursday.
He has been interviewed over commonwealth offences including making threats and false claims, and endangering aircraft safety.
Ashton said both carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews backed the police approach to the incident.
“There’s a standard process to work through and none of us can really know how traumatic it would have been,” he said.
“It would have been certainly worse if police had rushed in and potentially made a bad situation much, much worse.”
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