An east China airport has completely suspended operation of all flights after a security breach led to an emergency on a Shenzhen Airlines flight.
Last Sunday night, a man armed with a knife set fire using gasoline to the door of flight ZH9648 after having passed through the security check at Taizhou Airport. The incident happened during the plane’s descent to land at Guangzhou Airport, at which point passengers were evacuated from the plane using emergency slides.
Two people were taken to hospital for their injuries. The passenger who set the fire is reported to be in police custody.
Citing a serious breach of security, the eastern branch of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) decided Tuesday night to suspend all operations at Taizhou Airport beginning yesterday. To help with the overhaul of airport security, the CAAC will send a contingent of its own staff to supervise airport management.
The incident has resulted in the immediate firing of several staff. The director of the Taizhou branch of the CAAC has been sacked as has its deputy and other top leaders. All Taizhou Airport employees on duty at the time of the security breach have been fired.
Meanwhile, video taken on board the plane has emerged, showing airline staff desperately trying to maintain order as passengers panic in the aftermath of the fire.
Airline staff are seen pleading with passengers, saying things like “Trust us, we can take care of this (situation)!” and “Don’t panic, sit down and secure yourselves.” As well, cabin staff are heard asking passengers, “Are there any soldiers or armed police (on board the plane)?”
In an interview with CCTV, passenger Li Qiang gives this harrowing account:
At first he (the suspect) began hitting the door, after which he attempted to start a fire. He was successful, and the fire grew in intensity for about five seconds or so. Since I smelled kerosene, it seemed like he poured it onto a curtain. When the fire lit up, the whole cabin filled up with black smoke. It was hard to breathe at that time; some kind of black material filled up our noses.
Initial reports don’t mention the suspect was in the possession of a knife, only saying that a passenger was subdued for having disrupted the safe operation of an airliner for having damaged equipment on board the plane.
An eyewitness account quoted previously by Shanghai Daily said the suspect was in possession of a knife. As well, the eyewitness said the man was not subdued after setting the fire, and even escaped from the plane.