Tuesday 20 March 2018

Hijack bid fails to spoil the party as Sochi games begin

Harriet Alexander

A flight from Ukraine has landed safely in Turkey after a passenger reportedly attempted to hijack the plane and force it to divert to Sochi.

The plane carrying 110 passengers landed safely at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport, and a man in a tracksuit was led off the plane.

Despite the terror alert – and an amid an iron blanket of security – the 22nd Winter Olympics got under way. With a mixture of kitsch, camp and a healthy dash of the Kremlin the curtain went up in Sochi last night. It was a loud, proudly Russian and – despite the odd glitch – ultimately impressive ceremony in the Fisht Stadium on the shores of the Black Sea.

The brash three-hour show, cheerily influenced by Danny Boyle's London ceremony, featured an extraordinarily breezy 'avant garde' dance interpretation of the Revolution, a seven-foot boxer, tennis star Maria Sharapova, a blonde-haired girl named Lubov – Russian for love, the theme of the night – and former gymnast Alina Kabaeva, earmarked for a role in lighting the torch. Ms Kabaeva is also reportedly Vladimir Putin's current love interest.

After a pre-show that featured moments of high camp, the ceremony itself overcame a rocky start when one of the Olympic rings lowered into the middle of the stadium failed to open. Having overseen the spending of €37bn to bring the Games, the most expensive Olympics ever, to his favourite holiday spot, Mr Putin will not have been amused. The rest of the ceremony, however, should have restored his mood on the opening night of his Games.

But all was not as well outside the stadium. Huge pressure has been put on Russia to reform the country's "anti-gay" laws that bans pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors.

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Conor Lyne of Ireland carries his country flag as the Irish team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi
The mascots of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, a bear and a leopard, take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Snowflakes transform into four Olympic rings with one failing to form during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
Performers are seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

In St Petersburg, one of Russia's leading gay activists was arrested shortly before the opening ceremony. Anastasia Smirnova was one of four activists held as they photographed a banner citing the Olympic Charter's words against discrimination. Ten people were also arrested in Moscow, two of them believed to be Swedish.

Also last night there were reports a passenger tried to hijack a Pegasus Airlines flight bound for Istanbul and demanded it go "to Sochi". Officials said he claimed he had a bomb. The flight from Kharkov, Ukraine, landed safely in Istanbul and police arrested the man.

Earlier, the Interfax news agency cited the Ukrainian Security Service as saying a passenger who tried to hijack the plane was in a state of severe alcohol intoxication. It also said he has been pacified, and no weapons or explosives were found on him, but it was not clear where the information was coming from.

"A Pegasus Airlines plane flying from Kharkov to Sabiha Gokcen landed at Sabiha Gokcen safely after receiving a bomb threat while in the air," the Turkish civil aviation authority said in a statement.

Habib Soluk, an official from Turkey's transport ministry, confirmed that a bomb threat had been made. "We are sure that he didn't enter the cockpit. We know that the aircraft was hijacked before it entered Turkish airspace," he said.

He said earlier that authorities were trying to convince the passenger – reportedly a Ukranian – to give himself up.

"People are still inside but the pilot called security and gave them a signal that they can enter the plane.

There is a translator – a Turkish man near the Ukrainian to calm him down," an airport official said.

The passenger was calmed down by the crew and persuaded to let the plane, a Boeing 737-800, land in Istanbul at 6.02pm.

(© Daily Telegraph, London )

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