African woman held in NZ hijack
Woman held for New Zealand hijack attempt
Wellington (dpa) - A 33-year-old woman immigrant from Somalia was charged with hijacking Friday after invading the cockpit of a small commuter plane on a domestic flight in New Zealand and stabbing the two pilots.
The plane, carrying seven passengers on an early morning, 240-kilometre flight from Blenheim to Christchurch, made a safe emergency landing after the knife-wielding woman fell in severe turbulence, police said.
One of the pilots was so badly slashed on the hands as he fought off the woman who tried to grab the controls that he had to undergo surgery.
The co-pilot and another woman passenger who intervened were treated for less serious cuts.
Police said the woman, who demanded to be flown to Australia at one stage, was sitting immediately behind the pilot and jumped up and attacked him 10 minutes after take-off.
She claimed she had brought two bombs on board, but army experts who searched the plane, which was taxied to an isolated part of the airfield, found nothing. The Christchurch airport was closed to all flights and the terminal evacuated for more than two hours until the all-clear was given, reports said.
New Zealand television channels said the woman - who they named as Asha Ali Abdille - came to New Zealand as a refugee with a troubled past in 1994 when she was aged 19 and was known to police.
She had been the subject of questions in parliament following an on-going fight with the immigration department which rejected her application for New Zealand residence visas for 14 members of her extended family.
The woman had been working as a fruit picker in the Blenheim area and leaders of the Somali immigrant community in New Zealand were reported as having distanced themselves from her.
Police said the other passengers on the plane - operated by Eagle Air, a commuter subsidiary of the national carrier, Air New Zealand, were four New Zealanders, an Australian and an Indian.
They praised the pilots for landing the aircraft safely while trying to calm the woman and stop her from tampering with the controls.
A hijacking charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and the woman faces three other charges relating to the knife attacks.
She is to appear in court Saturday.
New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority rules do not require small regional airports handling aircraft with fewer than 90 passengers to have facilities to X-ray hand baggage or screen passengers with metal detectors.
“Today’s incident, although a one-off, has naturally given us cause to conduct a thorough review of our safety and security systems and processes on regional domestic flights,” an Air New Zealand statement said.
Transport and police minister Annette King called for an urgent report on the incident.