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Hijacker of Air New Zealand Jet Overpowered by Crew

May 19, 1987

SUVA, Fiji (AP) _ Cabin crew members overpowered a hijacker who threatened to blow up an Air New Zealand jumbo jet Tuesday on the tarmac at Nadi International Airport, airline officials said.

They said the pilot, co-pilot and chief engineer rushed the hijacker - an employee at the airport - while he was negotiating by radio with the control tower.

″The security alert is over,″ Roger Boulton, the manager of Air New Zealand, told The Associated Press.

The hijacker, a Fiji Indian, had said he had dynamite strapped to his body and had placed more explosives on the plane. He had released 24 crew members and all 105 passengers - most of them Japanese - shortly after seizing control of the Boeing 747, keeping only the three crewmen as hostages.

One airline official said the hijacker had demanded the release of the 11- member, Indian-dominated government of Timoci Bavadra, overthrown and put under house arrest in a coup last Thursday.

Another report said the hijacker had demanded to be flown to Libya, and a third report said he wanted to go to New Zealand.

Boulton said the three crew members rushed the hijacker as he was negotiating by radio with the control tower.

The hijacker, identified by New Zealand authorities as airport employee Ali Ahmet, took over Flight TE24 at 7:15 a.m., after it touched down for a stopover on the flight from Japan to Auckland, New Zealand.

Airline sources had originally said a total of 108 passengers and crew had been aboard the jumbo jet. They did not say why they changed the figures.

Nadi, on the western side of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, is the arrival point for most tourists to Fiji and the hub of air traffic in the South Pacific. Tuesday’s airline hijacking was the first ever in Fiji.

There was no immediate comment from the coup leader, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister David Lange said he was ″grateful″ the incident was over.

Earlier, Lange said New Zealand’s Special Air Services troops were in a state of ″preparedness.″

But Lange, at a hastily arranged news conference in Wellington, said at the time he saw no reason to assume that ″physical intevention″ was necessary. New Zealand is about 150 miles south of Fiji.

He said the man was ″clearly unstable″ and there was no apparent political motive for the hijacking.

″This is a situation where calculating hijack techniques have not been adopted,″ Lange said. He said it was government policy not to give in to hiackers’ demands.

A New Zealand frigate, the Wellington, docked in Suva’s harbor Friday, but New Zealand officials said that day that the port call had been planned long before the coup.

Security forces had removed civilians from the Nadi terminal and then closed and sealed off the airport, according to Australian Associated Press, or AAP. It said most of the would-be passengers were taken by buses to nearby hotels.

It also gave another version of the hijacker’s demands, saying he wanted to be flown to Auckland, New Zealand.

The agency said the man had insisted the jet be fully loaded with fuel and take off so that he could continue negotiations while in the air.

The agency said the hijacker is in his late 30s and had worked as a refueler at the airport for the past 17 years. The agency said he is married, the father of two children, and his house is near the airport.

It quoted Ahmet’s colleagues as saying he hinted several days ago that he might be involved in some protest against military rule.

″He didn’t say what, but he did say he would shortly be in the news,″ one fellow worker was quoted by AAP as saying. The agency did not identify the worker.

Update hourly