Asia-Pacific

Somali jailed for New Zealand plane hijack attempt

A Somali woman who tried to hijack a small aircraft on an internal flight in New Zealand in 2008 has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

In the first incident of its kind in New Zealand, Asha Ali Abdille took three knives onto the plane and tried to force its pilot to fly to Australia.

When told that the plane lacked fuel she demanded it fly into the sea.

It landed safely in the city of Christchurch and she was overpowered by the crew.

Abdille, a 36-year-old refugee, approached the pilots about 10 minutes after takeoff and claimed she had two bombs, The Press, Christchurch's daily newspaper, reported.

She came close to causing the aircraft to crash after she interfered with controls.

Security rethink

When she was denied the flight change, she attacked the pilots and a passenger, insisting the 19-seater plane ditch into the sea.

The seven passengers stayed in their seats, The Press reported.

"They were scared and several passengers were crying," the pilot said. "She said at one stage we were all going to die. She didn't say how."

A female passenger described Abdille as upset and agitated: "At times she was very angry, at other times she appeared frightened, other times crying and wiping her tears away."

The pilot had to undergo extensive surgery to re-attach tendons, muscle and a nerve after being cut on both hands; the first officer received a cut foot.

Abdille had been living in Blenheim for five years, working in vineyards.

She had previous convictions for threatening to pour petrol on a Red Cross member in Wellington and throwing a bucket of faeces over a policeman in Hastings and was already on bail for another offence.

Her background of mental health issues was taken into account in the sentencing, Justice Christine French said.

It remains unclear why she wanted to divert the plane, which was on an internal flight from Blenheim to Christchurch, on to Australia.

The incident prompted a security review on domestic air travel in New Zealand and led to a tightening of carry-on baggage checks.

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