Qantas Flight 1737
A Qantaslink Boeing 717 similar to the aircraft involved
|Date||29 May 2003|
|Site||over Bass Strait, Australia|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 717-200|
Flight 1737 left Melbourne Airport at 2.50 pm on 29 May. Around ten minutes after take-off, as the crew prepared for the onboard meal service, David Mark Robinson, a passenger seated in Row 7, became agitated, stood up and began to make his way down the aisle. Producing two sharpened wooden stakes from his pocket, Robinson stabbed flight attendant Denise Hickson and flight purser Greg Khan in the head on his way to the cabin galley. Khan tackled Robinson to unbalance him, eventually succeeding despite repeated blows to the back of the head from Robinson's stakes. Several passengers (including a Canadian paramedic, Derek Finlay, a former soldier in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) helped restrain Robinson, holding him down and tying him up with materials found on board.
The plane immediately turned back to Melbourne, where Robinson was placed under arrest by Australian Federal Police. He was also found to be carrying aerosol cans and cigarette lighters, presumably to use as a flamethrower.
Once the plane arrived on the parking bay, one of the cabin crew flew the main entry door open (door 1L) and used frantic hand gestures to ground staff and emergency responders to hurry up with the boarding equipment.
Safety and security concerns
Despite numerous security improvements following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Flight 1737 lacked certain security arrangements. The door to the flightdeck had not been adapted to completely block access from the outside, and there was no sky marshal on board.
Qantas undertook a full security review following the incident and promised to secure the flightdeck doors on all of their aircraft by 1 November. The airline dismissed the suggestion of armed sky marshals on each flight as too expensive, and a full body search of passengers to detect wooden objects as unfeasible.
In an interview with the Australian Federal Police, Robinson admitted attempting to hijack the plane, which he intended to crash into the Walls of Jerusalem National Park in Tasmania – an action intended to release the devil from his lair and bring about Armageddon. Robinson also admitted that he had intended to hijack aircraft on two previous occasions.
In July 2004, a Supreme Court of Victoria jury found Robinson not guilty of the three charges against him (attempted hijack of an aircraft, attempted murder and grievous bodily harm) due to reasons of mental impairment. Three psychiatrists testified that at the time of the incident, Robinson was suffering from severe paranoid schizophrenia. Justice Murray Kellam ordered Robinson to undergo psychiatric treatment at Thomas Embling Psychiatric Hospital in Fairfield.
Flight attendants Greg Khan and Denise Hickson returned to work after the incident. Khan and four of the passengers who helped restrain his attacker (Domenic Bordin, Keith Charlton, Gregory Martin and Garry Stewart) received Commendations for Brave Conduct medals from the Governor of Victoria John Landy in November 2004.
Qantas also made a training video regarding the incident; the crew involved were interviewed and this is shown during security training. Khan also speaks of how a passenger complained that the aircraft was returning to Melbourne, even though two crew members had suffered serious injuries and an attempt to hijack the aircraft had just occurred. Khan and other crew also report the amount of blood stains throughout the aircraft as a result of the injuries.
Since this incident all Boeing 717 aircraft operated by Qantas (Qantaslink) have been fitted with cameras and the flight deck door is bullet proof.
Upon further investigations by the airline, it was found one of the cabin crew used the international code for hijacking over the interphone to the flight deck. The crew member states she got a reply, however the flight deck crew never heard the message, and found out much later that an attempted hijacking had occurred and crew were injured. The flight deck crew also stated they both heard yelling and screaming coming from the passenger cabin, and that they attempted to call the cabin crew but they received no answer and decided at this point to declare a pan-pan call to air traffic control (a pan-pan call is one call below the urgency of a Mayday).
- Padraic Murphy, Phillip Hudson: Heroes foil Qantas hijack attack, The Age, 30 May 2003.
- Two stabbed in attempted hijack over Melbourne, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 2003.
- Crackdown over air safety, The Age, 31 May 2003.
- Qantas Statement on Aviation Security, Qantas press release, 1 June 2003.
- Gregory, Peter: Hijacker vowed to try again, court told, The Age, 14 July 2004.
- Gregory, Peter: Failed hijacker held in care, The Age, 15 July 2004.
- Heroes of Flight 1737, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November 2004.