Saturday 25 January 2020

Man charged over 'bomb threat' on Malaysia Airlines flight

Police in tactical gear board the plane in Melbourne (Andrew Leconcelli/AP)
Police in tactical gear board the plane in Melbourne (Andrew Leconcelli/AP)
The bomb scare happened 30 minutes into the Malaysia Airlines flight

A man has been charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft and making false threats after he threatened to detonate a bomb and attempted to enter the cockpit of a Malaysia Airlines plane flying out of Australia.

Manodh Marks appeared in court on Thursday and faces a potential 10-year prison sentence on each charge.

His lawyer Tess Dunsford told the magistrate that Marks had a psychiatric illness and would not apply for bail. He did not enter pleas.

Police said the 25-year-old Sri Lankan had been discharged from a Melbourne psychiatric hospital on Wednesday before buying a ticket for the flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Marks was tackled and tied up by passengers after making the threat and the flight returned to Australia. He did not have a bomb.

Police said Marks has no "terrorist" links or associates.

About 10 minutes after Flight 128 took off from Melbourne, Marks walked from his economy seat to the cockpit door clutching an electronic device and threatening to blow up the plane, creating panic among passengers.

Passengers subdued him and tied him up with belts.

"At that point, he was essentially trussed up," Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton said.

Marks, who is in Australia on a student visa while studying to be a chef, appeared at Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

He did not enter pleas to the charges. He will appear in court next on August 24.

Scott Lodge said he was one of four passengers who "pounced" on Marks.

"All of a sudden, someone has him in a chokehold and got his arm behind his back and the other guy eventually choked him and he passed out," Mr Lodge said.

Mr Ashton described the device Marks carried on the plane as an "amplifier-type instrument". Passenger Andrew Leoncelli described it as a "boombox" portable music player.

"He was saying: 'I'm going to the blow the F-ing plane up, I'm going to blow the plane up,'" Mr Leoncelli told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"He was agitated, is the best description - 100%, he was agitated."

The Airbus A330-300, which was carrying 337 passengers, returned to the airport about 30 minutes after take-off.

Passengers were kept on the plane for 90 minutes after landing and the plane was searched for potential bombs at a remote part of the airport, Mr Ashton said. Police wearing body armour took Marks off the plane.

The airline said the incident would be investigated.

Malaysia's state-owned airline has had two recent high-profile disasters.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the Ukraine in 2014 with the loss of all 283 passengers and 15 crew.

Flight 370 had disappeared with 238 people aboard four months earlier. It is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean but no trace of the plane has been found.

Victoria State premier Daniel Andrews offered government support for the passengers stranded by Wednesday's ordeal.

"I don't think any of us have a true understanding of the trauma, just how frightening this experience would have been," he said.

Mr Andrews cautioned against governments responding to the drama by banning mentally ill passengers from flying.

"We want to be very careful not to be driving people away from getting the care they need," he said.

"We don't want to be stigmatising any more than mental illness is already stigmatised."

PA Media

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