A pilot told on Monday of overpowering a woman passenger holding a kitchen knife, who wanted to hijack the aircraft to Australia or crash and kill everyone on board.
The woman, Asha Ali Abdille, also said she had a bomb on board and the pilot was worried she might be able to operate the bomb with her cellphone, he told a depositions hearing at Christchurch District Court.
The pilot, who has name suppression, said that as the 19-seater aircraft approached Christchurch Airport on February 8, Abdille flipped a switch on an overhead panel.
The switch operated the emergency cabin lights, but the two stop buttons for the Jetstream 32 aircraft’s engines were only about 20cm away.
The aircraft was then at 1000 feet (300m), configured for landing.
Crown prosecutor Pip Currie asked the pilot what would have happened if she had operated the stop buttons at that time.
“I believe that considering the configuration of the aircraft and the altitude, that we would have crashed,” he said.
Abdille’s depositions hearing is set for three days.
The 34-year-old Somali woman faces charges of hijacking, taking an offensive weapon onto an aircraft, and four charges of wounding or injuring with reckless disregard for safety. She is represented by Antony Shaw and Greg Gimblett.
Currie said Abdille had booked her seat from Blenheim to Christchurch under another name, for the following day, but later rebooked it under her real name.
She bought a steak knife and a utility knife that day and boarded the aircraft at Woodbourne, Blenheim, on February 8 with three knives.
The pilot told the court that Abdille appeared just behind him and the first officer about 10 minutes after take-off.
She thrust a knife at the pilot and said, “take me where I want to go”.
The pilot’s hand was cut as he tried to grab her wrist. He noticed she had blood on her hands, but it wasn’t his.
The first officer flew the plane and sent a mayday call to air traffic control while the woman said she wanted to go to Australia.
“I had serious concerns for the safety of myself, the first officer, the passengers, and the aircraft,” the pilot told the court.
Her mood ranged from aggressive to crying, sometimes calm.
When told there was not enough fuel to fly to Australia, “she suggested we could just fly into the sea”.
He ignored that and the plane continued towards Christchurch.
She had a plastic bag and a cellphone and said she had a bomb. The seven passengers remained in their seats.
“They were scared and several passengers were crying,” the pilot said.
“I seemed to be able to reason with her and tried to calm her down. I started talking to her about her family.
“She said she had six children, and a sister in Christchurch, and she said her mother had recently died. She ranged from calm and tearful, to aggressive.”
She ordered the first officer to take off his sunglasses, and slapped him on the side of his head with the hand that held the knife.
“She said at one stage we were all going to die. She didn’t say how.”
He was worried when he saw her touching the keys on her cellphone.
As the plane approached Christchurch and the ground came closer, the pilot said Abdille seemed to become excited about the fact that they could crash. That was when she interfered with a switch on the overhead panel.
When the plane landed, she agreed to let the passengers get out the rear door and the first officer helped while the pilot stayed in his seat.
As Abdille was distracted, he shoved her over and she became wedged into the recessed aisle.
He tried to wrest the knife from her but realised he had received a large cut on his hand.
The first officer then came back and kicked the knife from her hand before police boarded.
The pilot needed stitches to his right hand, and extensive surgery to reattach muscles, tendons and nerve on his left hand. He also had a cut on his back he did not know about until the paramedics told him. The first officer had a cut foot.