Pakistan International Airlines Flight 544
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|Date||25 May 1998|
|Aircraft type||Fokker F-27|
|Operator||Pakistan International Airlines|
|Flight origin||Gwadar International Airport|
|Last stopover||Turbat Airport|
PIA Flight PK-554, a Pakistan International Airlines Fokker F27, was hijacked on 25 May 1998, shortly after it took off from Gwadar International Airport, by three armed men belonging to Baloch Students Organization. The aircraft, with 33 passengers and 5 crew members aboard, had just arrived from Gwadar International Airport, Baluchistan, and was set to land in Hyderabad Airport, Sindh. The Army's SSG's Haideri Company, 7th Commando Zarrar Battalion, SSG Division, accompanied with members of Pakistan Rangers stormed the aircraft, while the Pakistan Police surrounded the plane. The operation concluded with all three hijackers arrested and sentenced to death by Pakistan, with no human casualties.
Hijacking of PIA Aircraft
The incident began while the aircraft was flying, carrying 33 passengers with 5 crew members abroad. The Karachi-bound PIA Fokker Aircraft, Flight PK-554, was hijacked shortly after it took off from Gwadar at 5:35pm on Sunday. The hijackers forced the pilot to enter India from anywhere, while the pilot reached the permission from the Indian Government. The Pakistan Air Force had traced the pilot's permission, and soon, PAF fighter jets, F-16 Fighting Falcons of No. 11 Squadron Arrows, had intercepted the aircraft and forced to land in Hyderabad, Sindh.
The hijackers had initially asked the pilot to veer the plane towards New Delhi. But, the pilot refused to head towards Delhi on the pretext of fuel shortage and PAF jets had intercepted the aircraft as well. The drama started when the PIA Pilot called Hyderabad Airport General Manager after being hijacked. According to the sources, the pilot was in his senses and his message addresses Hyderabad Airport as Bhuj airport. His decision led the hijackers to believe that they were in Bhuj, India, as he had heard the hijackers talking about maps of Bhuj. The airport general manager responded by saying that he was at Bhuj and waiting for the flight. This communication assured the hijackers that the plane had crossed into India.
The three hijackers were identified as Shahsawar Baloch, Sabir Baloch and Shabir Baloch. They were traveling under the names of Jamal Hussain, Anwer Hussain and Ghulam Hussain.
The Siege of Flight 544
The plane landed at Hyderabad late at night. The airport manager had switched off the lights and markings of Hyderabad. Later in the night, the hijackers released flight engineer Sajjad Chaudhry to talk to the authorities to refuel the plane for onward journey to New Delhi, India. The standoff came to an end after seven hours of continuous negotiations led by senior officials of Pakistan Police. The officials that included Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Hyderabad Akhtar Gorchani, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Hyderabad Dr. Usman Anwar, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Sohail Shah and Pakistan Rangers Major Aamir Hashmi, at 3 am on Monday. The hijackers demanded food, water, and fuel for the aircraft.
Preparation for the Attack
The entire airport was cordoned off by Rangers and Army personnel. The elite commandos belonging to Haideri Company, 7th Commando Zarrar Battalion, SSG Division had been put on alert for a possible storming of the plane. All airport lights had been switched off and the road links to airport were sealed. In order to deliver water and food, Pakistan police's SSP and ASP, who were senior police officers, were first to volunteer and thus police managed to reach the plane, though unarmed.
While the officers stayed in the plane to distract the hijackers, the Special Service Group (SSG) managed to prepare for the mission. In the mean time, the officers spoke Hindi to each other and convinced the hijackers that the officers are Indian nationals, as the hijackers had thought that they were in an Indian airport. By volunteering, they had risked their lives. The two hijackers had identified themselves as Sabir and Shabbir who had come out with hand bombs tied on their bodies. The police officers, in order to buy time and earn good will, told the hijackers that the Pakistani embassy people had been summoned to talk to them but, at the same time insisted that they should not hurt the passengers and let the women and children go.
The concluding part of the drama started when the hijackers allowed the women, two infants and a child to disembark following negotiations with the ASP, Dr. Usman Anwar, who met them as "Assistant Airport Manager" Ram and SSP Hyderabad, and Akhtar Gorchani posing himself as Ashok, Manager of the Bhuj Airport. Deputy Commissioner, Sohail Akbar Shah, joined the team as DC Rajhastan and communicated with the remaining officers in Hindi language. The officers had successfully evacuated the women and children from the aircraft while the officers had remained in the plane. Meanwhile, Pakistan Army had assigned the mission of Haideri Company, 7th Commando Zarrar Battalion, SSG Division, led by Major Tariq Ahmad Anees and Major Aamir Saleem, codename "Commando Operation". By midnight, the elite members SSG had arrived on the scene. The SSG had begun to launch the full-scale operation to retrieve the terrorists. The Pakistan police,rangers and army vehicles were parked in front of the aircraft to prevent it from flying again. The members of elite SSG Commandos had taken their positions. The SSG had stormed the plane, penetrating the plane from the front and the back doors of the aircraft. The Deputy Commissioner of Police had said Alla ho Akbar (God is great) simultaneously, when the SSG had stormed the plane. Shocked by the slogan, one of the hijacker tried to shoot the Deputy Commissioner but missed, and the hijacker mistakenly fired at one of his accomplices. The operation lasted less than two minutes. All three hijackers were arrested by the SSG were rushed to Karachi where they were handed over to Pakistan Police.
The hijackers were said to be carrying small weapons - pistols or revolvers, although they showed some packets which they claimed were high intensity explosives. The interrogations revealed that the Baloch hijackers were opposed to nuclear testing in their native Balochistan province following the recent Indian nuclear testing. It was later revealed that hijackers had demanded refueling to proceed to New Delhi and a categorical assurance that no nuclear explosion would be carried out in Balochistan province. During the siege, the Corps Commander of V Corps, Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, and IG Police were present at the airport.
The Sindh Governor Lieutenant-General (retired) Moinuddin Haider remained in constant touch with the authorities throughout the siege. Following a week, he honored the Sindh Police officers with highest honors and gallantry awards. The hijackers were, in 1998, convicted under 402-B (hijacking code defined in Pakistani law) and were given the death penalty in 1999. All hijackers were hanged on 28 May 2015, after 17 years on the same day when Pakistan had successfully conducted their nuclear tests in Chaghi, Baluchistan, the same activity the hijackers were trying to stop.
The crew members on board the aircraft were:
- Pilot Captain Uzair Khan
- First Officer M. Faisal
- Air hostess Khalida Afridi
- Flight attendant
- Flight engineer Muhammad Sajjad Choudhury
- Senior Superintendent of Police Akhtar Gorchani (Now additional Inspector General (D\AIG))but the Government at that time did not gave him QUAID E AZAM POLICE MEDAL.
- Assistant Superintendent of Police Dr. Usman Anwar (Now SSP, awarded Quaid e Azam Police Medal for gallantry for this episode later)
Deputy Commissioner (DC) Sohail Shah (disguised himself as DC Rajasthan) (decorated by citizens of Hyderabad)
- Major Aamir (now Colonel) (decorated with Sitara-e-Jurrat, Army gallantary award)
- Major Tariq Ahmad Anees (now Colonel) (decorated with Sitara-e-Jurrat, Army gallantary award)