Knife-wielding hijacker demanded to be flown to Australia (+photos,video)

By Jarrod Booker, Edward Gay

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A 33-year-old Blenheim woman who allegedly stabbed two pilots in mid-air has been charged with hijacking and three counts of assault.

She allegedly also injured a passenger, threatened others and demanded to be flown to Australia.

She was arrested by armed police dog handlers at Christchurch Airport after allegedly stabbing the pilots of an Eagle Air flight.

The woman was seated directly behind the door to the cockpit before entering it 10 minutes into the flight, armed with a knife.

Police say the woman demanded that the pilots take the plane - which was only flying the short trip from Blenheim to Christchurch - over to Australia.

A passenger who tried to restrain the woman also sustained knife injuries.

The Somalian woman allegedly threatened other passengers and continued to wave the knife throughout the flight.

She was grappling with the aeroplane's controls throughout the flight, police said in a press conference late this afternoon.

It was only when the pilot bought the plane into land that rough conditions caused the woman to lose her footing.

At this point, police say the co-pilot then wrestled the woman to the ground.

Members of the armed offenders squad with dogs then stormed the plane.

A taxi driver says the woman involved in the mid-air stabbing of two pilots seemed "vague" early today when he took her to Blenheim airport.

The taxi driver, who identified himself as Colin, told Newstalk ZB: "She was a wee bit vague.

He described her as "away with the fairies".

"She couldn't work out where she wanted to go for while which I thought was quite strange at that time of the morning.

"She was very nervous, very unsure of where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do.

"It was a very strange ride actually - not the normal ride you get in Blenheim, put it that way."

The two pilots have been praised for their courage after they were attacked and stabbed inflight by this morning.

Latest developments:
* A woman attacks two pilots on a Blenheim to Christchurch flight
* Armed police storm plane and arrest woman
* She claims there are two bombs on board
* Pilots taken to hospital with knife wounds
* Witnesses describe scene of chaos as airport evacuated
* Bomb squad searching the plane
* Woman identified as a 33-year-old from Blenheim

The pair both suffered injuries in the confrontation with one pilot receiving knife cuts to his hands and the other a foot injury.

Despite the altercation, both pilots were able to safely land their Jetstream J32 at Christchurch airport, with its seven passengers unharmed.

Air National chief executive officer Jason Gray said his company was proud of how its two pilots had handled an extremely difficult situation.

"They did an amazing job, which reflects their high level of training and professionalism. We are currently providing them and their families with all necessary support," said Mr Gray.

The pair were taken to Christchurch Hospital by ambulance where they were treated for their injuries.

Meantime police have released details of their female attacker.

The woman, who also allegedly made bomb threats, is a 33-year-old Blenheim resident.

Police and Transport Minister Annette King has called for an urgent report on the incident.

The woman, who police said was originally from Somalia, made bomb threats claiming there were two bombs on board the plane.

Superintendent Dave Cliff said the passengers were not in danger of the aircraft "coming to grief" at any stage.

He said the pilots' conversation with ground authorities was "somewhat stilted" but they were able to continue speaking with them.

After an incident-free landing, the passengers left the plane through the rear and were immediately taken from the area by police. The pilots requested police board the plane.

Mr Cliff said the woman has not been charged and it is too early to say what charges she could face.

"We don't know exactly what was said. We don't know if she made any demands," Mr Cliff said.

The army bomb squad is still checking the plane and passenger luggage for any signs of explosives.

As it is not known if a bomb is on board, and due to the risks of aviation fuel, a wide cordon has been put in place around the plane.

The international terminal is now being used for domestic flights after the airport re-opened just after 11am.

Police in Blenheim are doing background checks on the woman.

Mr Cliff said police have found two knives, one on the woman and one on the tarmac.

The other passengers on board - four New Zealanders, one Australian and an Indian - are being spoken to by police.

One witness earlier described the scene as "like something from a Bruce Willis movie". Andrew Sare said the woman was hauled off the plane by armed police, handcuffed and forced to the ground.

Philippa Green, a passenger at the airport, said passengers were at first told to stay away from the terminal's windows but the entire airport was later evacuated.

She said at the time: "There are people everywhere saying 'get out, get out, get out'."

She was waiting on another plane when the incident unfolded. She saw the woman, who she described as being middle-aged and dressed in black clothes, being arrested by armed police.

Ms Green said all shops and services are being evacuated after the reports that a bomb was on board the plane.

Another eyewitness said the area was in utter chaos, with unmoving traffic banked up hundreds of metres.

"Passengers are getting out of their cars and walking up to their flights, and staff are walking through to the airport," the man, who did not want to be named, said.

A police statement issued earlier this morning said a Mayday call was received from the plane - an Air National Flight operated by Eagle Air travelling from Blenheim to Christchurch - at around 7.40am.

The call, routed to police from the NZ Rescue Co-ordination centre in Wellington, said a female passenger had attacked the pilots before she was bundled out of the cockpit.

The plane, a Jetstream J32, landed safely at Christchurch airport at 8.06am. It was towed to the far end of the airport.

A source at Christchurch Airport said the woman was taken away in an ambulance, possibly suffering dog-bites.

Police and Transport Minister Annette King said she has asked NZ Police and the Aviation Security Service to provide her and the Minister for Transport Safety, Harry Duynhoven, with urgent reports on the incident this morning.

She said the matter was being handled by the police and the Aviation Security Service.

St John Ambulance could only confirm that they attended an incident at the airport but would not comment further.

Civil Aviation authority spokesman Bill Sommer said the passengers are safe and the aeroplane has been taken to an isolated spot on the tarmac

He said an investigation into what happened on the flight will be carried out.

- with NZPA, NEWSTALK ZB

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