Eyewitnesses have described how passengers restrained a mentally ill man who threatened to detonate a bomb on board a Malaysia Airlines flight on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old Sri Lankan man had attempted to enter the cockpit of the flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur before he was tackled and tied up.
Manodh Marks had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital earlier that day before buying a ticket on the late-night flight. Police have determined he had no “terrorist” links or associates.
About 10 minutes after Flight 128 took off Marks walked from his economy seat to the cockpit door clutching an electronic device and threatening to blow up the plane. Amid the panic he created, a core of passengers subdued him and hog-tied him with belts.
“At that point, he was essentially trussed up,” Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
Marks, who is in Australia on a student visa while studying to be a chef, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft and making false threats. He faces a potential 10-year prison sentence on each charge.
His lawyer Tess Dunsford told the magistrate Marks suffered from a psychiatric illness and would not apply for bail. He did not enter pleas to the charges. He will appear in court next on 24 August.
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,” Lodge said.
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 fucking plane up, I’m going to blow the plane up,’” Leoncelli told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “He was agitated, is the best description -100 percent, he was agitated.”
Speaking to the BBC, Leoncelli added: “He ran down the back aisle and three great Aussie heroes wrestled him to the ground and totally immobilised him.”
The Airbus A330-300 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, Ashton said. Police wearing body army 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. And Flight 370 with 238 people aboard disappeared four months earlier. It is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean but has not 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,” Andrews said.
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.”