PETALING JAYA: What was supposed to have been a routine Malaysia Airlines flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday night was disrupted in dramatic fashion mid-air, after an unruly passenger attempted to enter the cockpit.
The aircraft, which departed Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport at 11.11pm local time and was originally scheduled to land at 5.28am Malaysian time, was forced to turn back 20 minutes into its journey.
The following is a timeline of events from the point The Star was first alerted to the incident.
10.31pm (MYT): A Malaysian travelling on MH128 sends a text message to an editor at The Star, claiming there was an attempted hijack. Efforts to get more information fails when the line is seemingly cut off.
10.32pm: It’s all hands on deck. The Star immediately scrambles to verify the information. Print and online reporters are tasked with reaching out to a wide variety of sources, including Malaysia Airlines, aviation authorities, and government officials, including those based in Australia, as well as to determine if we can contact passengers or their families.
Off-duty journalists are alerted to be on standby.
Reporters are also assigned to monitor chatter on social media, and to verify information that circulates there.
On social media, rumours start circulating there are six hijackers on board, armed with bombs or other explosive devices.
10.40pm: Twitter user Brendan Grainger tweets: “Malaysia Airlines flight #MH128 has returned to Melbourne after a passenger tried to enter the cockpit shortly claiming he has explosives.”
A check on the flight’s status on flightaware.com, a flight tracking website, indicates that the plane has indeed turned back.
10.50pm: Continued attempts to reach out to official sources, but no luck yet.
Meanwhile Grainger, who often tweets about aviation issues, posts an update that several other passengers on board had subdued the unruly man before an overweight landing was performed.
He says that the aircraft is now isolated at taxiway K.
On Twitter, friends and family of passengers on board, as well as concerned members of the public, step up calls for officials to update them on the situation.
10.51pm: Malaysia Airlines confirms with The Star that a “disruptive passenger” who attempted to enter the cockpit had forced the plane to turn back.
The airline also confirms that the aircraft was grounded at the taxiway and was awaiting security assistance.
The Star Online publishes its first story: MAS flight from Melbourne to KL diverted due to 'disruptive passenger'
The subeditors (subs) at The Star start making changes to accommodate the story in the newspaper.
11.10pm: More tweets stream in claiming that the man was holding an “electronic frequency device”, and not explosives as initially believed.
The Star continues its efforts to get more clarity on the unfolding situation as Twitter is inundated with, at times, contradictory information.
Meanwhile changes have already been made to the newspaper for its next print run. The Subs Desk is on standby to update Pg 3 if additional information comes in.
11.40pm: Images and videos begin circulating online of armed police boarding the aircraft and carrying the man out.
Some users also share an image of a cabin crew member holding down the passenger, who is seen lying face down with his hands bound by what appear to be seatbelts or plastic cuffs.
11.52pm: Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi tells The Star that the passenger in question was “drunk”.
12.09am (June 1): Malaysia Airlines confirms that the disruptive passenger has been apprehended and all other passengers have safely disembarked. It also stresses that “at no point was the aircraft hijacked”.
12.45am: Melbourne Airport authorities tell The Star that airfield operations are currently suspended and all inbound flights have been diverted as a result of the incident.
Several departing flights are also stranded and grounded, the authorities confirm. Travellers with scheduled flights are advised to check with their airlines for the latest information.
Melbourne Airport authorities also refer The Star to Victoria Police for more information.
3.17am: Malaysian passenger Fariza Zainuddin reaches out to The Star, saying that the aircraft and passenger luggage have been thoroughly inspected by security personnel at Melbourne Airport.
4am: Fariza tells us that Victorian police are recording individual statements from the 300 passengers who had been on board the aircraft.
4.55am: According to Fariza, all passengers receive their bags and are told to await further instruction.
8.47am: After a long wait, passengers are told that their flight has been rescheduled to 8pm local time (6pm Malaysian time) Thursday and will arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 2.35am local time (12.35am Malaysian time) on Friday (June 2).
9am: All passengers are ferried to a hotel near the airport for temporary accommodation.
10am: Australian media reports that the unruly passenger is a Sri Lankan national who had just been released from a psychiatric facility hours before boarding the flight.
11am: Many journalists at The Star realise they are overdosed on caffeine, but continue to reach out for more information.
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