Hijacking in New Zealand

There are a couple of interesting things about the hijacking in New Zealand two weeks ago. First, it was a traditional hijacking. Remember after 9/11 when people said that the era of airplane hijacking was over, that it would no longer be possible to hijack an airplane and demand a ransom or demand passage to some exotic location? Turns out that’s just not true; there still can be traditional non-terrorist hijackings.

And even more interesting, the media coverage reflected that. Read the links above. They’re calm and reasoned. There’s no mention of the T-word. We’re not all cautioned that we’re going to die. If anything, they’re recommending that everyone not overreact.

Refreshing, really.

EDITED TO ADD (2/25): And this:

Mr Williamson today said the idea behind anything involving transport was “safety at reasonable cost”.

He said the Government needed to weigh up the cost of x-ray screening every passenger on a small plane against the risk of such an attempted hijacking happening again.

“I just think it’s over the top, sledgehammer to crack a nut stuff and my advice to the Cabinet this morning is just make sure you’re very careful. . .to consider what the costs are.”

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 7:26 AM51 Comments


Marc February 20, 2008 8:16 AM

“She was grappling with the aeroplane’s controls throughout the flight”

I dunno, I knife wielding psycho stabs the pilots and “grapples” with the controls. That’s pretty much in the “we’re all gonna die” category for me.

Someone did, apparently, try to “subdue” her and failed.

Given the number of stories about people (sometimes fatally) subduing deranged/disoriented people on airplanes in the US, I have to think that the Kiwis are probably tucked comfortably under a “can’t happen here” blanket.

I’m not sure that’s good (for them).

clvrmnky February 20, 2008 8:29 AM

Rule #1: Disturbed and/or violent individuals will continue to risk their own lives in ways that risk public lives, sometimes many more than we expect.

Rule #2: People cannot change Rule #1.

All we can do is mitigate the effects as much as we can.

Anonymous Coward February 20, 2008 8:37 AM

@ Bruce

“there still can be traditional non-terrorist hijackings.”

Haven’t hijackings always been “terrorism” by definition?

Which makes me wonder how one would stage a “non-terrorist” hijacking…

A consultant from Raleigh, NC boards an AA flight to DFW at 7am and forcibly reroutes it to Kansas City shouting, “Give me non-stop service or give me death! I have a client meeting at 10.”

Jackie February 20, 2008 8:47 AM

AC: “Haven’t hijackings always been “terrorism” by definition?
Which makes me wonder how one would stage a “non-terrorist” hijacking…”

The way they used to be done – hijacker asks for money in exchange for keeping everyone on the plane safe. The goal is that no one gets hurt and bad guy gets money. Terrorists, on the other hand, seek to injure and kill people to effect their goals.

AC February 20, 2008 8:50 AM

The reason the media didn’t jump up and down on it was because it is a political issue involving immigrants. The female hijacker was an African immigrant and the Australian and NZ media play down immigrant violence, especially when the violence comes from the notoriously violent central and east African immigrants who have been brought up in unstable societies.

I imagine my comment will be met with screams of crimethink and racism but ask any emergency first responder within NZ or Australia about the Sudanese or Somalis and they’ll tell you about their complete disregard and contempt for rule of law. They’re all not like that, but there is enough of it to be a larger problem that is kept quiet by the mainstream media.

Anonymous Coward February 20, 2008 8:50 AM

Upon further reflection… Terrorism has been described before as a tactic. But it also involves motive. I’ve always regarded terrorism as the use of violence to inspire fear with the intent of advancing a political objective. The case above may or may not be “terrorism” using the previous definition.

Does anyone define terrorism differently? The government seems to throw the word around a lot and sometimes seems to use it as a brush to paint anyone who rises up against us or our military. I’d like to see how other commenters may define the word differently in order to better understand the issue.

Nick Johnson February 20, 2008 9:00 AM

Re lack of cockpit doors: The plane was a tiny 19 seater; the planes aren’t designed to accommodate cockpit doors. Probably because the idea of one flying from Blenheim to Australia (on whatever fuel load they put in for local flights) is ridiculous*.

  • Someone with more aviation knowledge may correct me, but I’m pretty sure Australia is well out of these planes’ operational ranges.

Rex February 20, 2008 9:13 AM

Note that the sites reporting this are also from NZ. I wonder how the US media would react if someone (miraculously) managed to circumvent TSA and stage a hijacking of this sort.

bob February 20, 2008 9:23 AM

I suspect there is a “critical mass” of fightbackness. There were only 9 pax on this plane.

And one of the articles implies there is no difference between the “use as a guided bomb” threat involved in a 19-seat aircraft and a 90+ seat aircraft.

Thats about the same as saying you are no more likely to die when your car is hit by a train as when your car is hit by another car; which is doubleplusunsmart. For anyone who is unaware, a 200,000# aircraft moving at 500 mph does a SHITLOAD more damage than a 23,000# aircraft moving at 240 mph. (about 40x as much, and thats overlooking the cascading effects of a fire involving 50,000# of jet fuel vs 2,500# of jet fuel. (for proof compare the WTC on 9/11 to the B-25 hitting the Empire State Building in WWII.)

bob February 20, 2008 9:27 AM

*actually a better comparison would be the Pentagon on 9/11 vs Empire State Building in WWII. Unless you are in the “George Bush had the Pentagon blow itself up to create more support for his programs” camp in which case you should have taken the red pill.

Lyle February 20, 2008 9:37 AM

AC at 8:50 – I would modify your definition to specify “the use of violence against civilians”.

Violence against military is either an act of war or of resistance, but not terrorism.

reinkefj February 20, 2008 10:29 AM

Note the lack of a suitable firearm, tasar, or weapon of any type in the cockpit. I’d prefer isolating the flight crew. Or, at least giving them a stout door and few tools. Seems dumb to do otherwise. But, then I’m not a bleeding heart liberal socialist.

dave X February 20, 2008 10:36 AM

You’d sort of think TSA would have something to say about a hijacking.

But their blog, http://www.tsa.gov/blog/ , is getting bogged down in the moderation process: The last posted comment was early yesterday afternoon.

CGomez February 20, 2008 11:02 AM

“Remember after 9/11 when people said that the era of airplane hijacking was over, that it would no longer be possible to hijack an airplane and demand a ransom or demand passage to some exotic location?”

This is slightly a straw man. I saw slightly only because some people really might have said this. But those people would be getting the argument wrong.

I would say the argument is more that we can’t just assume that a hijacking is always going to be the “traditional hijacking.”

That’s exactly part of what went wrong on 9/11. Those involved were trained to relax, cooperate (sort of), and get the plane on the ground. It was always assumed the pilots would be told where to fly and what to do, and not eliminated while in mid-air.

The idea was to save the lives of the people on the plane. They were more important than the airline’s interests or whatever money or destination was being ransomed.

Now we actually value things differently. If you’re thinking of flying the thing into buildings and endangering thousands upon thousands, well… the better outcome is the hijackers are never able to hurt more than anyone who is on board.

All a reasonable person can do is ask that such a possibility is considered and trained for. It is just as ridiculous to assume every hijacking is “traditional” as it is to assume that every hijacking is going to be a 9/11 scenario.

dragonfrog February 20, 2008 11:25 AM

I found it somewhat interesting in the first link, the difference in journalistic standards between the journalists and the photo caption writers.

The article text starts “A 33-year-old Blenheim woman who allegedly stabbed two pilots…”

The accompanying photo caption starts “The woman who stabbed two pilots” – whoops, what happened to “allegedly”?


Maybe it’s my bleeding-heart liberal socialism showing through, but I’m not sure putting a taser or a gun in the cockpit would have helped. In any case, it wouldn’t have helped.

The outcome in this case is about the best possible one: nobody died. Even the attacker survived and was taken into police custody.

If I read the article correctly, the woman injured three people with a knife, including the pilot and copilot. Fortunately for everyone involved, she didn’t injure him so badly he couldn’t land the plane. If there had been a gun on the plane, the best case scenario is that the attacker would have been injured but not killed; next best case she would have been killed; worst case she killed the pilot and copilot, or injured them badly enough that nobody was left to fly the plane, and everyone died.

dragonfrog February 20, 2008 11:30 AM

Oops – my comment above should read more like:

…I’m not sure putting a taser or a gun in the cockpit would have helped. In any case, it could have hurt a lot more than it could have helped.

David February 20, 2008 1:30 PM

@AC re: Terrorists

We used to have hijackings to and from Cuba for years. Most of the people either wanted to return, or wanted desperately to leave.

None of these people were terrorists. In fact the people who hijacked a Cuban airplane a few years ago (pre 9-11) were just incredibly desperate to leave and come to the USA. Would you call them (which included an uncle, and a baby) “terrorists”?

I sure wouldn’t.

Stuart February 20, 2008 1:34 PM

“The reason the media didn’t jump up and down on it was because it is a political issue involving immigrants.”

I think the real reason it didn’t turn into a feeding frenzy is that she has mental health problems.
It wasn’t an reasoned or thought out attack.

If nothing else it takes 3 hours to get to Australia via an international flight and puddle jumper just wasn’t going to make it.

“Crazy person does some thing crazy” doesn’t sell much advertising.

slarty February 20, 2008 2:51 PM

… but over here you will be pleased to know a few of our right-wing politicians are demanding flight screening for these tiny planes.

BTW, in the USA this size of aircraft flies all the time with no serious screening. They’re called Lear Jets. Rich people use them to avoid the queues, which after all aren’t for “important” people.

Any one of them could be flown into a ground target (don’t tell me those fighters can cover all the targets all the time from a near-supersonic aircraft).

This was a mentally ill woman (long history). Notably, simple behavioural screening on the ground may have prevented it, but there is probably a reluctance to risk perceptions of prejudice. She showed all the symptoms, but to be fair so do many people when they’re about to get on a 19 seater!

Must say I’m still really surprised that there wasn’t more passenger intervention. My instincts would have been a swift blow to the head with the oxygen bottle strapped on the wall next to row 1!

bob February 20, 2008 3:52 PM

@dragonfrog: The pilot is still in the hospital. He may have lost his livelihood. He is certainly in pain and will have a substantial recovery period. You should ask HIM about the value of his having had access to a Taser.

@slarty: Statistically most aircraft of the category you refer to are either Cessna Citation or Beechcraft King Air of one model or another. And they are far more often used by business people than any other user. It makes the same kind of financial sense as paying some ballplayer $20M per year because his presence brings in twice that in revenue – if you can have a person who can generate $1M or more in revenue on a business trip, and you can spend $20,000 to save that person 4 hours on a roundtrip enabling him to do 1 or 2 extra trips per week, then you would be doing your stockholders a disfavor by not providing the most time efficient transport available.

As for using them as weapons, almost all of them are “light” aircraft (weigh less than 12,500# at max weight including pax and fuel) and attacking a large building with them would be the equivalent of throwing empty beer cans at a baseball bat in order to destroy the bat.

Mark February 20, 2008 4:32 PM

@bob… Police here in NZ don’t even carry guns on them. There was an uproar when Police trialled tasers.

Anyway, I can confirm there wasn’t much media coverage in NZ regarding this.

Jamie February 20, 2008 4:48 PM

“I have to think that the Kiwis are probably tucked comfortably under a “can’t happen here” blanket.

I’m not sure that’s good (for them).”

It’s true that we Kiwis don’t worry too much about plane hijacking. We’re a fairly pragmatic lot, and don’t let paranoia rule our lives (unlike a big chunk of the US population).

As for whether it’s good for us, I’d say it’s a lot healthier than the stress caused by:
* constant fear of a terrorist attacks
* excessive queues at airports because of security theatre
* overzealous officials calling every little thing a “terrorist threat”

dragonfrog February 20, 2008 4:56 PM

“The pilot is still in the hospital. He may have lost his livelihood. He is certainly in pain and will have a substantial recovery period. You should ask HIM about the value of his having had access to a Taser.”


Fair enough, I hadn’t realized his injuries were that bad.

What I was referring to was just that there’s no guarantee the crew would have been using the weapons on the attacker – it’s also possible the attacker would have grabbed the weapon and used it.

One thing you can count on guns to do, is to escalate a situation.

Noz February 20, 2008 5:39 PM

Yes BOB…

As we see…the damage to the PENTAGON WAS ON PAR with the WTC…so both aircraft had to be 757’s right?

Stop covering up the facts about the lies about the facts.

Desert Eagle February 20, 2008 5:45 PM


“One thing you can count on guns to do, is to escalate a situation.”

Not at all. Many ugly situations are diffused as soon as an armed officer shows up.

It’s often only when either or both sides feel they can win the budding confrontation that things escalate.

A show of the potential for deadly force by the other side precipitates one’s blustering into shrinking.

Sean February 20, 2008 7:07 PM

Bruce, isn’t this a bad thing? Wasn’t the great improvement in security from Sept. 11 that hijackings would now be responded to so that the planes couldn’t be used as a weapon?

I actually find this quite disheartening, not refreshing.

twonk February 20, 2008 7:09 PM

@reinkefj. “Liberal” and “socialist” aren’t the same thing. (Think USSR.) And being unable to type “liberal” without preceding it with “bleeding-heart”, can be an early symptom of Cliché. Unchecked, Cliché can block thought entirely as it chokes the “brain” with wicked tangled tendrils of Knee-jerk and Stereotype. Extreme cases can end in federal institutions (e.g. the White House). I beg you, catch it in time.

The relevance? Not just to have fun at reinkefj’s expense but — seriously — this forum is one of the few remaining havens of clear thinking & I hope it stays that way.

Simon February 20, 2008 7:18 PM

Hi – I’m a Kiwi living in NZ. This story lasted two days in the media, here. There’s been no mention of it since. I wonder how much FUD this would have generated if it had occurred in the States or Australia (which, IMHO, is becoming more like the States every day)

I don’t know if this is because of a lack of FUD, or because our lightweight media tend to quickly move on to the next entertaining / outrage-building soundbite.

We have quite a few Somali immigrants these days. The current generation don’t seem to integrate well into NZ society – see the Muslim leader’s comments about how the hijacker socialised with Kiwis, not Somalis. It’ll be interesting to see how the next generation fairs.

Oh, and the NZ Police are armed more frequently than people realise – the average Copper isn’t carrying a sidearm, but weapons are frequently carried in vehicles, stored in the boot (trunk) in a secure fashion.

Thomas Paine February 20, 2008 8:35 PM

To be fair, what was usually said was that the era of “co-operate with the hijackers” was over. If co-operation means all the passengers on the plane will die (plus some casualties and damage on the ground) then air travellers won’t put up with that, and will fight back.

So the response policy is now “fight and subdue; arrest after landing”. If the policy were to become, say, “use deadly force and execute hijackers while the plane is still in the air” then that might have a more profound effect in deterring hijacking.

But as a previous poster mentioned — there will always be people with mental problems who do irrational and dangerous things. One must try to not overreact.

greg February 21, 2008 4:12 AM

Im a NZer living in Austria and I was in NZ flying the same day as the highjacking.

First the high jacker has been in the news before. She is crazy. Its well known. Putting guns on a plane does not change crazy people to uncrazy ones. (Americans think that arming everyone is always the answer. its not).

Second, there are more people on a bus. If there is a crazy person on a bus do we add xray machines at all bus stations?

3rd, I don’t want the cost of domestic flights in NZ to tripple or worse. These are tiny airports with 1 or 2 staff members running the whole show. If we add “security” then many will simply close down. I know I’m safe (enough) without the security so lets not add it.

My finial point is a odd one. All the police here in Austria are armed. Yet there is a very very low rate of violet crime here. So the argument that arming police will cause crims to get bigger guns does not really hold.

Michael February 21, 2008 4:27 AM

The articles you have quoted may not have used the “T” word but here in Australia I remember hearing a radio report of this incident with a sentence along the lines of: “It’s not yet clear if the hijacker is linked to Al Qaeda”. We hear this sentence a lot down here.

Are we conditioned yet?

Roger February 21, 2008 4:28 AM

I find Bruce’s argument puzzling. This hijack attempt failed. The reasons for its failure are not completely clear from the rather vague NZ press reports, but it certainly sounds as if a passenger and both pilots violently resisted the attacker and overpowered her.

Anonymous February 21, 2008 8:39 AM

@Thomas Paine

“So the response policy is now “fight and subdue; arrest after landing”.”

If someone stands up, exposes a stick of dynamite and says “Fly this plane to Peru or I blow it to hell!” or puts a knife to the throat of a flight attendant and shrieks “Take me to Cuba, or she bleeds!”, then it would be a pretty good idea to just fly the plane wherever the guy wants it flown.

But if at any time anyone presents a credible and immediate threat to the plane — someone kicking at the cockpit doors, someone fidgeting with a shoe-bomb, and so on — you have nothing to lose by fighting.

As Roger notes, it is difficult to tell what happened here though. My guess is that the hijacker here did not present a credible bomb threat while in the air. Her knife-threat was more serious, and would have been sufficient — had the airplane been capable — to get her to Australia. (And I think they can arrest people just as well there as in New Zealand.) It was likely her attempts to take over the cockpit that triggered the “nothing to lose” response.

Dudley February 21, 2008 12:26 PM

I wonder how the US media would react if
someone (miraculously) managed to circumvent
TSA and stage a hijacking of this sort.

Is that sarcasm? It’s been shown several times that it’s trivial to sneak shit past airport security.

cdmiller February 21, 2008 4:59 PM

@Greg: “(Americans think that arming everyone is always the answer. its not).”
@Greg: “All the police here in Austria are armed. Yet there is a very very low rate of violet crime here.”

Well since you decided to put some words in my mouth, my actual view as an American is don’t try to disarm me or any other American. If some pilots want to be armed that’s fine with me. Obviously subduing a knife wielder (crazy or not) is a better outcome than stabbed pilots.

Crime rates
Austria: 18.8%
United States: 21.1%
New Zealand: 29.4%
SOURCE: UNICRI (United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute). 2002

CalmKiwi February 21, 2008 6:44 PM

Those aeroplanes have a thin cotton curtain between the passengers and the pilots. I suspect this maybe upgraded to a much sturdier canvas-type curtain. Bah. From my perspective down here you Americans are truly terrified. The poor woman was trying to get to Australia in a plane that would only get a quarter of the way.

Moz February 22, 2008 2:11 AM

The media reports I saw oscillated between politicians going “we will look into improving security” and the other 90% of the population going “hooo, gotta watch them crazy people”. There’s some sympathy for the woman involved – apparently her craziness is the result of severe mistreatment at the hands of her “fellow” Somalis so she tends to avoid them now, hence is not getting good community support. But people in NZ are mostly trying to address that rather than going off on some will-o’-the-wisp chase to secure all everything against tourists. Bar the obligatory racists and so on who are calling for draconian punishment for all Somalis (which makes a change from calling for the death penalty for graffiti if nothing else)

Greg February 22, 2008 3:41 AM


What those stats don’t show is the type of crime. Violent crime is really low here (Austria).

Unfortunately there has been a huge increase in violent crime in NZ that the stats don’t reflect either.

cdmiller February 22, 2008 1:14 PM

@Greg “What those stats don’t show is the type of crime. Violent crime is really low here (Austria).”

Here is the list of crimes from the UN document (most not violent):
robbery, burglary, attempted burglary, car theft, car vandalism, bicycle theft, sexual assault, theft from car, theft of personal property, assault and threats.

To single out a specific violent crime:

Female Rape Victims as % of total population
Austria: 1.2%
United States: .4%
New Zealand 1.3%

I’m using Nationmaster to pull this stuff up, and their referencing UN reports.

For what it’s worth the stats certainly do not make me afraid of visiting Austria or New Zealand. Every country, city, town has bad neighborhoods, and situations best avoided.

greg February 23, 2008 11:42 AM


Interesting stats. I personaly don’t by it. Perhaps more crime is reported here and in NZ. And what does 1.2% even mean. 1.2% of woman get raped at some time in there life? Yet its a anual stat?

I can tell you now that I have no problem with my 16 year old daughter walking around at 1am here in vienna (anywhere). But I would be worried in Auckland.

Wesley Parish February 24, 2008 4:25 AM

For what it’s worth, I can say I have actually travelled on board short haul airliners in New Zealand, some seating as few as 9 – that was a Merlin IV or Metro I flew on way back in 1988; others seating 19 or so. And yes, there is no door separating the cockpit from the passenger cabin.

As far as Somalis and their integration into New Zealand goes, I once sat and listened to a Somali woman seeking work in a fruit packing store, and winced at the way the HR was trying to get rid of her. Blaming Somalis for everything that’s wrong with the New Zealand Somali community is counterproductive. Myself, while riding my bicycle, I was once raced by a Somali kid on a beat-up old bicycle and he almost won. I have great expectations of the New Zealand Somali community in the sports field, once they realize their opportunity to shine.

markm February 24, 2008 5:32 PM

Noz, don’t be an idiot. The Pentagon took considerably less damage because (1) it’s a squat modular design, not a tower, and (2) the terrorist flew a little low and hit the ground first. The plane skidded along the ground and went into the building, but it lost some speed, and probably some wing fuel tanks.

Nineteen-passenger puddle-jumpers are much smaller than most airliners and therefore can’t do nearly as much damage – and if a terrorist who’s backed by arab oil money picks a target small and flimsy enough to be destroyed by a small airplane, it’s easier to just charter one.

Noz March 3, 2008 2:30 AM


Squat modular design? What bullshit are you talking about? Modular design has NOTHING to do with the exterior surface damage or forensic evidence that should have been on site as a result of impact.

They flew low and hit the ground first??? LOL…yeah that’s why there’s wreckage all over the front of the Pentagon with a big gaping hole on the lawn right??? Right…..

So where are the 2 huge engines the 757 had? Where were the wings? The tail? The elevators?

Stop BSing people…the evidence speaks for itself…and there’s nothing that can change those facts.

charlie March 7, 2008 12:35 PM

There is also an argument of course that there wasn’t a huge reaction to it from the media because the hijaker was a white caucasian. What if that person was of a middle eastern or some other asian origin?

But then again, I agree with the most people that in NZ they have a lot more reasonable people than in US or even Australia (where I live). Mainly because they have a more reasonble government and political system.

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