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Hijacking Attempt on Italian Jet Plane Lands in France

Aired November 27, 2002 - 10:35   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here out of France. We have a confirmed report that an armed hijacker has been subdued on an Alitalia flight. It originated in Bologna, Italy, was on route to Paris, France and diverted to Lyon after an armed man tried to hijack the plane with 67 people on board. The plan did land safely in Leon. We understand that all the people on board are safe. We don't know much more about the circumstances of what happened, but CNN's Jim Bittermann in Paris has been investigating.
Jim, what are you hearing about what happened on board that plane?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, for one thing, the police are now backing off the armed description. They are now saying apparently armed. So it may not be he was quite as well armed as initial reports indicated. But the 67 passengers and crew people were in fact taken off the plane safely. There was no problem. The plane itself is parked at the end of a runway at Santa Zubareri Airport in Lyon.

It was on its way to Paris, and was diverted and landed in Lyon about 35 minutes ago, And that's where it sits. The passengers themselves will be put on another plane or perhaps back on the same plane and brought up to Paris later on in the afternoon. But we don't have too many more details. Other than that, it's not clear exactly who the hijacker was, if it was indeed a hijacking.

There was at least one report that says one of the local media here are reporting that the person involved was mentally deranged. So it may not have been a hijacking as such. It's hard to say at this point. There are just not enough details to really say whether this was a real hijacking attempt or not. But, like I said, police are saying the apparently armed man was taken into custody, the passengers and crew are safe and the plane is sitting at the end of the runway in Lyon.

Jim, do you have any idea where they're going to take this suspect?

BITTERMANN: He would be taken right to the police station in Lyon. One of the things that apparently took place is that the police themselves subdued him. They did not get any of their highly trained forces involved, kind of the equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALS, or any of there highly expert hostage-taking forces involved. It may not have been enough time in fact. It looks like it was just the local police who took the man in custody. He would be, I imagine, taking to the local police station. LIN: All right. So we don't know for a fact whether this was an attempted hijacking. We just know there was a disturbed man on board, he may have been armed with something, but perhaps not a weapon. Is that what you're saying?

BITTERMANN: That's exactly right. We just don't know at this stage. For one thing, the police have backed off. The initial description was that he was armed, and they have now backed off saying he was apparently armed. So that would suggest that perhaps it is a little less than what was initially reported.

But in any case, it must have been serious enough that the crew felt it necessary to take emergency steps and not go all the way to Paris, but land instead in Lyon, which is about halfway between Bologna, Italy and Paris, which is right along the route that the flight would have been flying.

LIN: Thank you very much, Jim Bittermann. We'll give you a chance to do a little bit more reporting, and perhaps we can learn more as those passengers are interviewed of exactly what went on board, whether this man was armed with something, whether people felt threatened, whether he was making any demands.

But just in case you're just joining us now, we just want to bring you up to speed, that an Alitalia flight which originated in Bologna, Italy was en route to Paris, France, and was diverted and landed safely in Lyon, which Jim Bittermann said was on route there, after initial reports of a man attempting to hijack this plane. Jim Bittermann is saying that police are backing off that description. It could be a mentally deranged man.

Initially reports were that he had a weapon, but now police are backing off of that. But perhaps he had something in his hand, something less than a weapon, but that he was using it to brandish in a threatening manner.

We're going to find out more about that, but in the meantime, Alessio Vinci standing by in Rome investigating on that end nearby where the plane had taken off -- Alessio, what do you know about what happened on this Alitalia flight?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I just spoke to an Italian official here in Rome, who is confirming what Jim just reported. They are trying to get a little more idea about exactly what this man really was holding in his hand, the Italian official telling us that he had in his hand something that looked like a remote control, certainly something that would have worried a lot of the crews, and then force this plane to land down in Lyon and the man being apprehended.

We also understand from this Italian official that apparently this man is an Italian citizen. So again, we should caution about calling him a hijacker. It does appear, as Jim Bittermann was reporting and was hearing from French authorities back in Paris, perhaps it is confirmed here from Italian authorities who are saying this man was indeed apparently an Italian man, and seemed to hold something that looked like a remote control rather than a weapon itself.

LIN: Was he making any threats?

VINCI: Well, the Italian officials are not saying much here. They, again, just confirmed the fact plane was hijacked and that the crew on board felt -- they did not give us any idea about how the plane was actually -- managed to land in Lyon, whether because the man forced the plane to land in Lyon, or whether because the pilot decided it was safer for the plane to land in Lyon, as perhaps somebody on board may have apprehended the man. We don't have that kind of information. We only know that he -- that he was holding this thing that looked like a remote control.

LIN: Alessio, how then did it get out somehow to authorities that this may be an attempted hijacking? Was that because the pilot had radioed a control with that information?

Well, we're waiting for a statement from Alitalia right now, so we don't know that yet. It is unclear right now whether the plane was forced to land at Lyon by the hijacker, or whether the pilot, noticing that there was a man that perhaps, was deranged, as Bittermann suggested, and was holding this remote control maybe felt that it was safer to bring the plane -- to land the plane at the closest airport location, which was Lyon, which is about halfway between Bologna and Paris.

It is not clear whether it is the man himself who actually forced the plane to land, or whether the pilot decided to land the plane.

LIN: Alessio, I'm going to test your knowledge here of airline security. I'm not sure how much you know about Alitalia's planes, but a lot of discussion here in the United States about reinforced cockpit doors, arming pilots in the cockpit for this very kind of an event. How much security is there on board an Alitalia flight?

VINCI: Well, ever since the September 11 attack, Italian authorities are taking extraordinary measures in trying to protect people flying here. Certainly, we have noticed at airports throughout Italy, and indeed throughout Europe that security is increased, and the checks at the screening before you board the plane is really a lot more thorough, takes a lot more time to reach the plane because of all the checks that are going on.

There has been no discussion yet, however, here in Italy, or at least here in Europe, to -- as there has been suggested in the United States to actually give pilots here weapons to protect themselves.

But again, in this particular case, it is even unclear whether the man had reached the cockpit, as Jim suggested, after speaking to some French authorities -- is that he, perhaps, was just mentally deranged, and he had this remote control, which probably a device that would not create any suspicion among security officials at check-in, and perhaps he was not even in a position to threaten the pilot himself.

Therefore, perhaps, the pilot knowing that there was some kind of disturbances happening in the cabin of the plane, perhaps decided to land the plane before things could get worse.

LIN: Right. All right. Thank you very much. Alessio Vinci in Rome, waiting for a briefing by Alitalia officials.


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