Plane hijacker's troubled history

By Andrew Koubaridis, Jarrod Booker, Mike Houlahan

Two pilots have been praised for a "miraculous" landing after being injured in an alleged hijacking by a crazed, knife-wielding woman.

The pilot and co-pilot both suffered knife wounds, apparently in confrontations with a 33-year-old Blenheim woman of Somali descent, but managed to bring the Beechcraft 19-seater down at Christchurch Airport.

One of the pilots had surgery on his cut hand in Christchurch Hospital.

A female passenger suffered minor injuries during the Eagle Air flight from Blenheim yesterday while trying to restrain the woman.

After it landed, six passengers were taken to safety while the woman was dragged from the aircraft by waiting members of the armed offenders squad and forced to the ground in scenes described by one witness as reminiscent of a Bruce Willis movie.

The 33-year-old woman has been charged with hijacking, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and two counts of injuring with intent to injure. She is expected to appear in court today.

The hijack charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Details of the troubled life of the refugee emerged yesterday, with people describing her as an aggressive and unstable transient who had cut herself off from her community.

The woman is understood to be Asha ali Abdille, who was born in Sudan but grew up in Somalia. When fighting began in Mogadishu in 1991, she was separated from her family and spent time in refugee camps on the Kenyan border. In a 1999 interview with Waikato's This Week newspaper, Abdille said she was raped a number of times by soldiers and bandits.

Eventually the UN High Commissioner for Refugees flew her to hospital in Nairobi, where she stayed until being selected as a refugee in need of urgent, special protection and flown to New Zealand in 1994.

Since then she has moved around the country, living for short periods in Hamilton, Wellington, Napier, Nelson and Christchurch. She had suffered a head injury, which gave her recurring health problems. She is also believed to have headaches, dizziness and nightmares from her experiences in Africa.

She also injured her back when she fell from a ladder while picking fruit in Hastings, leaving her on sickness benefit. She settled in Wellington with other Somali refugees, but soon moved away from the community and is understood to have begun drinking and getting involved in petty crime, before moving to the South Island in search of seasonal work.

After spending time in Nelson, the woman moved to Blenheim three years ago.

In November 2004, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters raised concerns about Abdille, asking questions in Parliament of the Immigration Minister at the time, Paul Swain.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege, Mr Peters said the woman had a "police record a mile long" and had been "bludging off the New Zealand taxpayer" for 10 years.

He said she had been trying to bring 14 of her relatives to New Zealand and had a record of convictions that would make Al Capone proud.

While in Blenheim, she was joined by her deaf sister. Months later, the sister is understood to have obtained help to move from Blenheim to get away from her sibling.

The Weekend Herald understands the sister is now a resident of a Christchurch deaf school.

A Blenheim Muslim community spokesman, Zayad Blissett, said last night that Abdille was not part of the community. "She has quite a history of mental instability and she has threatened to kill family here. She's an alcoholic and very unstable."

Abdulkadir Gudle, chairman of the Wellington Somali Community Association, said the woman was well known, but had deliberately cut herself off from fellow Somalis.

Yesterday's incident led to a full-scale emergency at Christchurch Airport, disrupting travel plans for thousands of people.

Air New Zealand deputy CEO Norm Thompson said the two pilots made a heroic effort. "Getting that aircraft down, under the circumstances, was just a fantastic piece of flying."

Police also gave credit to the pilots and passengers.

"They have certainly done an extremely good job," said Superintendent Dave Cliff.

Mr Cliff said it was only about 10 minutes into the flight when the woman, sitting in seat 1A behind the pilot, allegedly walked forward and attacked him with a knife, causing a severe injury to his hand. "He immediately told his co-pilot what had happened, who called the mayday and advised the tower of a hijacking."

The woman allegedly made threats to those on board, spoke of two bombs being on the plane and demanded the flight go to Australia.

The woman kept hold of the knife and when the plane was coming in to land she allegedly tampered with controls.

"The aircraft landing was somewhat rough because of weather conditions ... [and] she ended up falling away from the controls."

Upon landing, Mr Cliff said, the woman made further demands and the pilots then managed to "wrestle [her] to the ground".

Police with dogs arrested the woman and found a second knife in her shoe.

The two pilots involved, both in their 40s and from Nelson, work for Air National and were flying the aircraft on behalf of Eagle Air.

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