Fighter jets scrambled after Pendle pair’s plane ‘bomb threat’: court

A court has heard how Typhoon jets were scrambled after two men from Pendle allegedly threatened to blow up a plane en route to England from Pakistan.
Eurofighter Typhoon jet  (AP Photo/Donato Fasano)Eurofighter Typhoon jet  (AP Photo/Donato Fasano)
Eurofighter Typhoon jet (AP Photo/Donato Fasano)

The men, who are appearing at Chelmsford Crown Court, are accused of endangering the safety of a Boeing 777 on which they were travelling.

Supermarket employee Tayyab Subhani (30), of Townley Street, Brierfield, and restaurant worker Mohammed Safdar, (42), of Hallam Crescent, Nelson, deny communicating false information that the crew and passengers would be killed and the aircraft blown up on May 24th.

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Their Pakistan ­International Airways flight, carrying 308 passengers and 14 crew from Lahore to Manchester, was diverted to Stansted 10 minutes before it was due to land and was shadowed by an RAF Typhoon fighter jets after the pilot reported threats.

The court was told the defendants were returning from Pakistan where they had been attending Safdar’s mother’s funeral and had attracted the attention of fellow passengers before they boarded the plane by acting in a “rude, aggressive and intimidating manner” at the airport. Their “increasingly strange and unpleasant behaviour” on the plane then led to them being reported to airline staff by fellow passengers.

The prosecutor went on to say “the tipping point” appeared to be when an elderly passenger became ill and an announcement was made inquiring if there was a doctor on board and, despite having no medical qualifications, Safdar came forward.

“Asked to return to his seat, he refused and this led to a confrontation between him and a member of the crew during which the defendant made a number of threats to kill him,” he went on, adding they were accompanied by hand gestures implying knives would be used.

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The prosecutor said, even when he returned to his seat, Safdar’s threats and abusive language continued. “At one point, Safdar looked at the crew member and drew a cross in the air followed by a threat to blow up the plane. He continued to behave in this way for much of the remainder of the flight being encouraged by Subhani,” he added.

The court heard several passengers tried to persuade Safdar to calm down but he and Subhani turned their anger on them and issued more threats to blow up the plane, at one point Safdar standing up to draw a cross on his palm and saying in Urdu “No more crew, no more passengers. Finish everything”.

The jury were told passengers were alarmed and the plane’s chief bursar became involved in a bid to restore order, with Subhani shrugging his shoulders and pointing at Safdar when asked if there was a problem. Safdar replied in Urdu: “Do whatever you want, I don’t care. I have to do what I have to do.”

“This was potentially a life-threatening situation - it could no longer be dismissed as mere ranting. Informing the senior captain, he took the threat to be a real and serious one. The captain was directed to divert over the North Sea,” said the prosecutor.

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“Two Typhoon jets were scrambled to intercept and escort the plane. The pilot was ordered to set course for Stansted. At that airport a full emergency was called. By the time the plane landed it was dangerously low on fuel having been in the air an hour longer than scheduled.”

The court heard it was the first time in 35 years of flying the pilot had had to use his reserve fuel and “it was the most serious incident that has ever happened to him”. As the defendants were arrested, the prosecutor said one turned and said to the pilot “you won’t live long”.

Safdar later described the incident as “stupid” and said it stemmed from an argument. “Subhani denied threatening anyone and described the whole thing as a “ joke”, said the prosecutor.

He continued that Safdar told police there had been an argument between him and a member of the cabin crew, who was rude to him, and he told passengers who intervened that “it was nothing to do with them”. He denied making threats to kill or blow up the plane, describing the allegations as lies and suggesting the steward encouraged passengers to lie.

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“Subhani gave a broadly similar account to Safdar. He denies Safdar made any of the threats alleged. He further denied he made any comments at all or encouraged Safdar to make any comments,” the court heard

The hearing continues tomorrow