Turkish F-16 scrambled for 'drunken' Sochi hijack attempt
Turkey’s F-16 fighter jets forced down an airliner in Istanbul on Friday after a passenger tried to hijack it, brandishing a detonator and ordering it to Sochi where the Winter Olympic opening ceremony was underway, Turkish officials said.
The plane, from Turkey’s Pegasus airline and carrying 110 people, landed in Istanbul.
The hijacker was believed to be a Ukrainian man, according to Turkish media. Outlets reported that he was overpowered and security forces were on the plane.
Habib Soluk, deputy Turkish transport ministry, said that the man was holding a detonator as he tried to get to the cockpit and claimed there was a bomb on board.
“We are sure that he didn’t enter the cockpit. We know that the aircraft was hijacked before it entered Turkish airspace,” Soluk said.
The Pegasus pilot managed to sound the alert and the Turkish F-16 military jets intercepted the plane escorting it safely to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport, according to NTV television.
Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the Istanbul governor, says on Twitter that “the operation has ended.”
There was no evidence of the suspect being linked to any organization but investigations would be conducted, he said.
In another tweet Friday, he said all passengers were evacuated “without any problems.”
The governor had arrived at the airport earlier in the evening to take charge of a crisis center to handle the incident. Ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene.
A Transport Ministry official said all passengers were evacuated from the plane before the operation, which took place shortly before 10 p.m. (2000 GMT).
A photograph displayed by the broadcaster NTV showed a man wearing a red, white and blue sports top, believed to be the suspect, standing up from his seat near the front of the plane as a steward looked on.
Video footage also showed passengers sitting calmly on the aircraft before the operation was carried out.
Media reports had said the suspect was believed to have drunk alcohol, but the governor could not confirm those reports.
The news broke as athletes from nations around the world poured into the stadium for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, raising fears about security.
The incident came at a time when security officials internationally are on high alert for possible militant attacks connected to the Games.
Several U.S. and European security officials have said that last-minute intelligence reports about possible Olympics-related attacks continue to flow into Western agencies, according to Reuters.
President Vladimir Putin has staked his political and personal prestige on the Sochi Games, intended to show how far Russia has come since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. A bombing, hijacking or hostage crisis would seriously threaten those ambitions.