Suspect identified after Vietnam Airlines 787 threat in January

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Just at the start of the new year, on January 5, a Vietnam Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner operating a Tokyo-Hanoi flight was forced to divert following a threat. A phone call was made to the airline’s offices in Japan saying the plane would be shot out of the sky if it did not immediately return to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, from where it had taken off about 40 minutes earlier.

After consultation with the respective aviation authorities of the two countries, the pilots turned back as it crossed the East China Sea. They landed him without incident at Fukuoka Airport after about two and a half hours in the sky. Officials went to the airport, investigated the plane, spoke to the crew and felt it was safe for the flight to continue.

The 47 passengers and 15 crew members arrived safely in Hanoi at 6:12 p.m. local time. The only information given to passengers until landing was that the plane had encountered technical problems.

Investigations have now led police to a local man in Japan. Sources familiar with the matter say the man shows no signs of mental illness and appears to have acted alone, according to Vietnamese media NV Express International reports. No specific motive or purpose behind the man’s actions has been revealed so far.


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Threat not synchronized with actual theft

The threat made was specific in terms of the name of the flight number, but there was no request made other than the return of the aircraft to its point of origin. The anonymous caller said (supposedly in Japanese),

“Flight VN5311 better turn back to Narita or it will be shot down passing Tokyo Bay. I’m preparing to shoot VN5311 when it flies over Tokyo Bay. It better turn back.”

By the time the threat was made, the plane had already passed Tokyo Bay, which may have impacted the authorities’ decision to allow the plane to continue its journey.

Vietnam’s aviation authorities at the time said the threat was “surprising” and that it was the first time a Vietnamese aircraft operating overseas had been in such a situation.


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Real shootings and other fake threats

This time, the threat appears to have been made on a whim, with no real ability or intention to do so. However, with a potential new conflict in Ukraine, it is hard not to remember the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.

The Boeing 777 was shot down en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, after being targeted by a surface-to-air missile from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. All 298 people on board perished, making it the deadliest jetliner downing to date.

In July last year, three different men were arrested for making false threats on Ryanair flights, where the low-cost carrier’s crew found notes claiming there were explosives on board.


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