RCMP to interview passengers before releasing threatened aircraft
Wednesday April 11th 2012 - By Lisa Gordon
Korean Air flight 72 is
surrounded by emergency vehicles after being escorted into Canadian
Forces Base Comox by U.S. fighter jets on April 10. Mike Reyno Photo
The small Vancouver Island town of Comox, B.C., is the site of big drama today, after Korean Air flight 72 made an emergency landing at the local Canadian Forces base late yesterday afternoon. The airliner, which was en route from Vancouver to Seoul, South Korea, turned around about 300 nautical miles northwest of Vancouver, after the airlineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s U.S. call centre received a credible telephone call saying there was a Ã¢â‚¬Å“threatÃ¢â‚¬Â on board the aircraft. The call was received about 25 minutes after takeoff, at around 3 p.m. Flight 72 was escorted into Comox at about 5:30 p.m. by two F-15 fighter jets based in Portland, Oregon. Korean Air has not confirmed whether the airliner was diverted due to a bomb threat.
The plane, a Boeing 777, was carrying 147 people when it touched down. Coincidentally, Canadian Skies was on the scene at Comox when the aircraft landed. Publisher Mike Reyno and editor Lisa Gordon were in an RCAF de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo, sitting on the ramp with engines running as the Korean jet approached. There was initial talk on the radio of a medical emergency, and the two search and rescue technicians on the Buffalo offered their assistance if needed. When the F-15s came into view, however, it became obvious that it was not a simple medical-related diversion. Emergency vehicles raced to meet the airliner, including fire, ambulance and police.
This morning, the breakfast room at the Holiday Inn Express in Courtenay, B.C., was filled with passengers from the Korean flight. The mood was calm. A mother fed her small boy some banana while an elderly couple waited for toast to pop out of the toaster. Jong Seob (James) Koh, Korean AirÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s general manager for Western Canada, circulated from table to table, telling passengers that further details about their flight would be announced shortly.
One of the passengers, a Vancouver man who operates an importing business and was on his way to meetings in Korea and China, said the airline handled the situation very well. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t heard one person complain,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said during breakfast. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just happy to be sitting here on the ground.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A hotel spokesperson said the facility is always available to help out airlines in times of crisis and was pleased to offer accommodation to some of the stranded passengers, who arrived, exhausted and bewildered, at around 2 a.m. this morning after being screened at an undisclosed location.
At around 10 a.m. local time, passengers at the Holiday Inn Express were told that the RCMP would be conducting Ã¢â‚¬Å“short interviewsÃ¢â‚¬Â with each passenger, beginning at 11 a.m. Most passengers still seemed relatively calm, although one man, a doctor who was en route to a job interview in Melbourne, Australia, has been pacing anxiously. There is no word on how long the RCMP expects the interviews to take. Based on those interviews, police will decide whether or not to release the aircraft. If the green light is given by authorities, the aircraft is scheduled to return to Vancouver for fuel and fresh food.
Passengers were told they would finally be on their way to Seoul about an hour and a half after returning to Vancouver.
Trans-Canada Air Lines (later to become Air Canada) first had flight attendants in July, 1938. At first, only single women under 26 were selected, and they served small boxed lunches and cups of coffee and lemonade. www.canadiangeographic.ca