August 17, 2006

All-clear after threat against Fiji-Sydney flight

By Paul Tait

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police evacuated and searched
a Pacific Blue flight from Fiji to Sydney on Thursday after a
threat was made against the plane, but nothing suspicious was
found on board.

Officials said 102 passengers and seven crew aboard flight
DJ 154 were evacuated from the Boeing 737 after it landed at
5.45 p.m. (0745 GMT) at Sydney's international terminal from
Nadi, Fiji's main international hub.

"Following an extensive search, nil items were found and
the all-clear was given," New South Wales state police said in
a statement.

With passengers around the world already nervous after
British police foiled an alleged plot to bomb transatlantic
airliners, the incident was the second major security scare
involving an international flight within 24 hours.

A woman panicking from claustrophobia caused a
Washington-bound flight from London to make an emergency
landing in Boston on Wednesday.


The drama at Sydney Airport, Australia's largest, was
sparked after a threat was received at a Virgin Blue call
center that a suspicious device was on board the Pacific Blue

"Virgin Blue had a call to our guest contact center
suggesting a safety threat," spokeswoman Amanda Bolger said.

Pacific Blue, which flies out of Australia to New Zealand
and the Pacific, is part of Virgin Blue Ltd., Australia's
second-ranked carrier part-owned by Richard Branson's Virgin

Bolger would not comment on media reports that the threat
had been made in a call from the Philippines.

Aviation security officials in the Philippines said they
had no information about a possible link.

Passengers said they had to stay on board as the plane sat
on the tarmac for about an hour before they were taken off, but
were given no details about the security scare.


One passenger, who gave his name as Ken, said passengers
were taken to a terminal and told to put their hand luggage on
the ground and step back while sniffer dogs inspected it.

"No one was panicking, the passengers were very controlled
and well-behaved," he said.

"I don't know what it was about because we were never
informed," he said.

Another passenger, surfer Mark Singleton, said they were
originally told there was a problem at their disembarkation

"I was a bit surprised how long the delay was in getting us
off," said Singleton after he got off the plane with a
surfboard under his arm.

"You'd think with the amount of bomb scares before, it
would have been done quicker," he said.

The plane was towed away from the main terminal buildings
and searched by bomb squad police after passengers were
evacuated and taken by bus back to the terminal. The all-clear
was given about two hours after the flight landed.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally with troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan, has never suffered a major peacetime attack on
home soil.

But the country has been targeted in recent attacks in
Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings in which
202 people died, including 88 Australians.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry in Sydney and John
O'Callaghan in Manila)