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El Al Launches Investigation Into Attempted Hijacking

Aired November 17, 2002 - 18:32   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Passengers were screaming, fits were flying as a man allegedly tried to storm the cockpit of an Israeli commercial airliner. It happened today.
El Al Flight LY581 was heading to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. We go now to CNN's Matthew Chance in Jerusalem for details -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson. An investigation is under way now by Israeli authorities to try and find out how this man managed to get onto the El Al aircraft, which was en route from Tel Aviv to the Turkish city of Istanbul, wielding a knife.

We're told by Israeli security officials that their personnel onboard the plane detained -- managed to overpower this individual -- a male passenger, they say, who was attempting to hijack the aircraft.

We understand that he was wielding a knife, that he threatened an air stewardess and that he was attempting to storm the cockpit.

Now the plane has now safely arrived in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. The passengers are safely on the ground. None of them are injured but they have been speaking to journalists about what they experienced. Here's what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One Israeli wanted to catch our airplane from Israel to Istanbul. He tried to catch some steward and wanted to go in the cockpit.

But two of our security people catch him in a moment.


CHANCE: Well, not a great deal is known about this individual who was apparently attempting to hijack the aircraft according to Israeli security officials.

It is believed at this point that he was acting alone. As I say, he was wielding a knife. He's now in the custody of Turkish police in Istanbul before presumably he is handed over to the Israeli authorities. Anderson?

COOPER: Well, Matthew, I'm sure this is going to promote a big security review at El Al. Does anyone know at this point how this happened? How this man got on the plane? You and I, I'm sure, have both flown El Al and the security there is extraordinarily tight. It's probably the tightest of any airline in the world.

CHANCE: I think it probably is the tightest and security procedure are now going to be investigated. In fact, an investigation has already begun at this end and Israel is trying to determine how it was that this individual, who was apparently determined to hijack this aircraft or at least attempted to hijack this aircraft carrying what officials are describing as a pen knife managed to penetrate those very stringent security checks.

Luggage on every passenger that gets onboard an El Al flight is searched very thoroughly -- not just that individual's of question -- as to what their motives are, whether they are genuine passengers or whether they have any ulterior motives. So it is a big concern for the Israeli authorities here.

COOPER: All right -- Matthew Chance -- thanks very much tonight from Israel.

Security at El Al Airlines is always tight, as Matthew said, and yet this man seemed to manage to get a small knife aboard the plane. If it could happen there, the question is, Could it happen here?

For that we go to CNN's Patty Davis, who is at Reagan National Airport with more on that -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. aviation officials certainly doing all they can to make sure that items like that cannot be smuggled through security here in the U.S. and that includes the addition of thousands of federal passenger screeners now in place across the nation.


(voice-over): Federal passenger screener, Everett McDaniel (ph) is on the front lines of the U.S. war against terrorists at Reagan National Airport.

EVERETT MCDANIEL, FEDERAL PASSENGER SCREENER, REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT: No -- they're not coming through this checkpoint -- not on our watch. That's the way we feel.

DAVIS: The former Army food service manager is one of at least 47,000 federal screeners at the nation's airports ahead of Tuesday's deadline to have them in place. That deadline set by Congress after the September 11 terror attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The screeners along with all of the other layers of security that we now have in place make the system much safer today than it was a year ago.

MCDANIEL: Any change that you might have? Metals on you? Is that it? DAVIS: Safer, the government says, because the new federal screeners are more highly trained than the private screeners they are replacing. One hundred hours of training versus just four to five hours and they are better paid.

What can passengers expect? Standardized screening at every airport, queuing lines to direct them. If a passenger sets off an alarm they are sent to another lane for wanding or to have their shoes examined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Try to be as prepared as you can. Try not to bring a lot of metal objects. Know what the rules are before you get here. You can look on the Web site for the TSA. Airlines have this information -- even airports have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a good trade-off -- security versus a little inconvenience. Most people should realize that it's worth it.

DAVIS: But not everyone agrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a hassle -- it's a hassle because now we actually have to start out quite a bit earlier.

DAVIS: To make it as painless as possible the new federal screeners are taught to be customer friendly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon. How are you?

DAVIS: Despite the new screeners there are still problems. Two thousand people at Miami International Airport were evacuated Thursday after two people slipped by security. The Transportation Security Administration is investigating and two federal screeners are on paid leave.


DAVIS: And some airports likely will not meet the next big deadline. That is December 31 when airport officials are supposed to screen all checked bags.

Some of the larger airports have asked for another year extension. It looks like Congress will give it to them. But aviation officials say that indeed those airports will still be required to screen all of those checked bags by some other method so that indeed terrorists cannot get bombs onboard planes. Anderson?

COOPER: Patty, any reaction today from airline officials in the U.S. about the El Al event?

DAVIS: Transportation Security Administration officials telling me today how monitoring -- they were monitoring that situation. They said that they do not have a role in that but they say that what this shows is there was a security guard onboard that plane like what the U.S. has onboard its planes -- an army of air marshals flying on planes across from coast to coast. And they said that their air marshals here in the U.S. would react exactly the same way. Anderson?

COOPER: And, finally, Patty, for people traveling this week -- expecting to fly -- should they be expecting any greater delays given this deadline this week and also the threats out there?

DAVIS: Well, as we head towards Thanksgiving obviously and Christmas we're going to see delays -- they're inevitable -- it always happens in the airports but the FA key officials are saying that they've been doing some studies on that and they're showing with the addition of these new federal screeners that they're not seeing any more delays -- that there was a promise of delays of no more than 10 minutes and that's about what they're seeing on average -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right -- Patty Davis -- thanks a lot.


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