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Russia: Pilot, Flight Attendant Discuss Prague Emergency Landing

The jet at Prague's main airport (epa) An Aeroflot passenger jet flying from Moscow to Geneva safely made an emergency landing --> in Prague today after a passenger threatened to blow up the aircraft. The passenger was detained by police after the plane landed in the Czech capital. RFE/RL correspondent Claire Bigg spoke with co-pilot Andrei Litvinov and flight attendant Stanislav Malinin at Prague's international Ruzyne Airport.

RFE/RL: Media reports say the pilots decided to make an emergency landing in Prague after a passenger issued bomb threats. Is that correct? Please tell us what happened on board.

Andrei Litvinov: A drunk passenger started demanding that the aircraft be flown to Cairo or somewhere in this direction. A fight broke out on the plane. He threatened to blow up the plane. Flight attendants, together with some first-class passengers, fought him and tied him up. We were forced to land in Prague and interrupt the flight to Geneva.

Litvinov: [There were] nine family members, some children; the terrorist's wife was also flying. His wife came out at the very last moment when police took him away. We didn't know that they were a family of nine. We thought he was alone.

Stanislav Malinin: He named Cairo, Egypt. His first demand was to subordinate the crew. His initial demand was simply that we subordinate, and then he named his goal, or rather his destination. He harassed passengers, he hit one of them. I attempted to protect a female passenger. He tried to provoke a fight.

Malinin: First the flight attendants, then passengers rushed to help, they reacted to the incident. When the row erupted we informed the crew, who made a decision. He made threats, he said that he had a bomb and could blow up the plane.

RFE/RL: In the event that the assailant had planned in advance to highjack the aircraft, why do you think he picked precisely this flight?

Litvinov: On flights to Geneva there are usually people who fly either for business or for personal visits. Honestly, we are very surprised that he chose a flight to Geneva. For us that is unclear.

Malinin: He had his hands in his pocket. After that he had a bag in his hand. [We don't know] what was in that bag. He was very aggressive.

Litvinov: He tried to burst into the pilots' cabin and threatened to blow up the plane.

RFE/RL: Do you know his nationality?

Malinin: He appeared eastern-looking, maybe from the Caucasus, maybe from Ossetia. My personal impression was that he is from Asia or the south.

RFE/RL: Did he speak in Russian?

Malinin: Yes, he spoke Russian. He was very rude, he was shouting out orders. When he walked into the business-lass section, he began yelling at the passengers, right before the row started.

RFE/RL: Did you get the impression that he was drunk?

Malinin: You know, it's hard for me to say. Maybe he was drunk. But I didn't see him drinking while I was near him. Maybe he was [drunk]. I suppose he was under a certain degree of alcohol [intoxication], but not too much, as he was reacting adequately.

Malinin: At first, the chief flight attendant and I thought he was simply a drunk passenger or, you know, some people suffer from claustrophobia, of fear of flying, passengers get nervous -- it happens and it has happened before in our practice, we've had simply drunk passengers. But here, the person was making decisions adequately, in my view, and communicated those decisions to us.

RFE/RL: What was his relatives' reaction? Did they try to interfere?

Litvinov: They made no attempt, they were sitting quietly. There was already a case long ago, when the Ovechkinshijacked an airplane [in 1988], they were also a family and all family members [other than the hijackers] sat quietly until a certain time. So, they may have been sitting quietly, but we didn't know what they had on their mind and what their next step could be.

RFE/RL: What about the other passengers, how did they react?

Malinin: There was no panic, absolutely no panic. Business class passengers, where it all happened, in the area of the first kitchen, helped us.

Malinin: Annoyance [on the part of passengers] is natural here, because people are flying on holiday, but in my opinion, when the passengers were already leaving the plane, there weren't annoyed, nobody had any inadequate reaction or made any unpleasant remarks. This was a formality that everyone understood very well. Of course, there was some regret among the passengers, but everything ended well.

RFE/RL: How rare are such cases on Russian flights?

Litvinov: I've been flying for 20 years and this is the first time it has happened to me.

Malinin: I've been a flight attendant for 12 years and this is also my first such case.

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