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UPDATE: Malaysian Airlines and Sydney Airport plane scare: ‘We don’t storm planes. …It’s not the movies’ say police.

UPDATE: Malaysian Airlines and Sydney Airport plane scare: ‘We don’t storm planes. …It’s not the movies’ say police.

Just an update to the previous story about the Australian Federal Police and the Malaysian Airlines MH122 flight. It turned back to Sydney and hour and a half into the flight. A passenger had become unruly, and the crew tried de-escalating the situation. The plane was held for two hours at Sydney Airport before passengers were allowed to disembark.

Social media has been awash with criticism, some from the affected passengers themselves, lamenting the long weight and the lack of police action. This is understandable, and passengers must have been terrified, despite being removed from close proximity to the offending passenger.

a woman in a police uniform
Karen Webb, NSW Police Commissioner [NSW Police]

The Police Commissioner, Karen Web, has made the following comments on 2GB on the Ben Fordham program:

“…The protocol in Australia is to negotiate. We don’t storm planes. We’re not TV. It’s not the movies. We want to protect the lives of all passengers.

Karen Web, NSW Police Commissioner

She went on to explain the police approach:

“The important thing is to try and defuse and not escalate the situation and so I praise the crew for what they did in in keeping the passengers calm, particularly the person who has been arrested now, to de-escalate this situation to the point that we got this matter resolved within three hours.”

Karen Web, NSW Police Commissioner

Although she did recognise that the timing caused distress:

“I think three hours is is pretty good. I know it’s terrifying for those people on board and their families outside.”

Karen Web, NSW Police Commissioner

According to her timeline, police were notified about 4:15 pm on Monday, and the incident was resolved by 6:15 pm. She also pointed out that police are always acting in these situations without knowing all the facts:

“… We didn’t know whether there was a bomb, [so AFP] had to work through all of those considerations in terms of what we’re really dealing with.”

Karen Web, NSW Police Commissioner

You can read additional coverage in The Guardian, the SMH and ABC News.

AFP arresting disruptive passenger on flight MH122 at Sydney Airport in from of Malaysian Airlines cabin staff [@chzaib]
AFP arresting disruptive passenger on flight MH122 at Sydney Airport in from of Malaysian Airlines cabin staff [@chzaib]

2PAXfly Takeout

When you are directly affected by a situation as the passengers on social media were, it’s often difficult to have the objective view that police, crew and cabin staff have to try and maintain in these incidents of severe stress.

The important thing is to ensure passengers are safe. In circumstances where you don’t know if there are additional participants on the plane or on the ground, or if its a hijack or bomb threat, caution and de-escalation are the watchwords.

Sometimes passengers have to trust the experts. Being a ‘Google expert’ just doesn’t wash when the rubber hits the road.


  1. Court

    I’m surprised the passengers didn’t kill him with the lack of police response…

    • 2paxfly

      Courtney, thank you for your comment. I think most Australians and Malaysians, the majority of travellers on the route, I suspect, are gentler than that. However, one media source reports an attempt at a confrontation by one passenger, soon de-escalated by the cabin crew.

      • Courtney

        Really? Gentle to someone threatening to blow the plane out of the air? I’m sorry, but if my life is stated to be on the line, I’m not sitting around to see whether the threat is real. Remember 9/11? I’m not waiting until it’s too late, sitting around thinking I’m okay, that the plane will return to the airport for negotiations.

        • 2paxfly

          Hi Courtney. Thanks for your contribution. Besides the advantage of de-escalating the situation, my point was really that experts are usually more knowledgeable, and certainly more objective than the subjects of such a situation. 9/11 is a very complex example. As the commission found, if authorities had put their collective knowledge and gained intelligence information together and worked cooperatively, those planes were unlikely to have ever been hijacked in the first place.


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