BUKIT LANJAN: ‘Accidental Hero’ shows the need of air marshals to help make air travel safer

BUKIT LANJAN: ‘Accidental Hero’ shows the need of air marshals to help make air travel safer

It was such a relief and eye opener to read the news report titled “Beijing-bound plane diverted after passenger attempts to break into cockpit”.

Relief because a possible disaster that could have cost some 200 lives had been averted. An eye opener because there was an “Accidental Hero” who successfully helped apprehend a violent and suicidal passenger in midair.

The role of the “Accidental Hero” was instrumental enough for the flight captain to pen a “Thank you note”. The “Accidental Hero” was then not well and he sustained minor injuries in the malee with the “amok” passenger.

“The report and incident has jolted my dreaded memories of MH370 in March 2014 that killed all 239 passengers and crew on board,” Gerakan Deputy Speaker Syed Abdul Razak Alsagoff said.

He said the MH370 air tragedy had then prompted experts to moot an air marshal programme to help make air travel safer.

“Has the Malaysian federal government launched such a programme secretly or was it all a knee-jerk response, a media damage control stunt?”

“It has been three years and nothing has been heard about the air marshal proposal. The ‘Accidental Hero’ has shown us how the presence of an air marshal or two can help avert possible air disasters,” he added.

Syed Razak, who is Gerakan’s nominee to contest N.37 Bukit Lanjan in the coming 14th General Election (GE14), said the federal government must seriously consider the setting up of a air marshal security force.

“Don’t wait for another MH370 and talk only about air marshals. Learn from the US Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS),” he added.

He said the FAMS was a US federal law enforcement agency under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Syed Razak said it was certainly not possible to have air marshals on board every flight by Malaysian-owned airlines.

“Even FAMS, with about 80,000 flights daily in North America, is not doing that. Air marshals are deployed secretly on board high-risk flights based on passenger lists and destinations,” he added.

Although the TSA will not release statistics on the number of air marshals for obvious security reasons, it has been estimated that it has some 3,300 air marshals to date.

A scene from Non-Stop with Liam Neeson as a US air marshal
“You may like the portrayal of Liam Neeson in Non-Stop but FAMS was introduced in 1962 and became more visible after 9/11.

Air marshals’ focus and priority is to protect passengers and crews on domestic and international flights and at airports.

“They are tasked with identifying and apprehending dangerous individuals and prevent criminal activity, just like our ‘accidental hero’,” Syed Razak said.

Here’s the “Accidental Hero” news report by South China Morning Post that was found on The Star Online and a March 2014 Malay Mail Online news report on the MH370 tragedy:

"Home > News > Regional

Monday, 20 March 2017 | MYT 8:28 PM

Beijing-bound plane diverted after passenger attempts to break into cockpit

Cao Guoxiong, second from right, is welcomed to Beijing airport by his workmates. Photo: Handout.
The captain wrote a note of thanks to Cao. 
BEIJING: A frenzied passenger attempted to enter the cockpit of a Beijing-bound aircraft on Saturday before being subdued by a Chinese passenger and the flight captain.

The incident took place on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Beijing, according to news portal ThePaper.cn. There were more than 200 passengers on the flight.

The male passenger attempted to break open the cockpit door by running into it and kicking it. Although the man’s identity was not revealed, the report said he was about 6 feet tall and screamed in both Chinese and English when he made his run at the cockpit door.

After two flight attendants and two passengers failed to stop him, Cao Guoxiong, a Chinese passenger who is a bodybuilder, wrestled the man to the floor. The flight captain, after reassuring the other pilots in the cockpit, then came out and helped hold down the man.

The scuffle lasted for about 20 minutes before the captain managed to tie the hysterical man’s arms behind his back. The man almost broke loose multiple times,so Cao collected headphone cables from other passengers and further trussed up the man.

The plane was diverted to the Allama Lqbal International Airport in Pakistan where the man was arrested by police. The report said the man was recently fired from his job, but it did not give a source. Feeling suicidal, the report said, he had attempted to hijack the plane and crash it.

The plane safely landed in Beijing almost five hours later than scheduled at around 11pm on Saturday. Cao sustained some minor injuries including some scratches on his face.

Cao, who works for AVIC International, was warmly welcomed by his colleagues at the airport. He also received a thank you note from the flight captain.

Many social media users applauded Cao’s bravery, praising him as a hero in the sky. His colleagues revealed that Cao had been recovering from a fever when he helped subdue the hijacker. – South China Morning Post

Amid MH370 probe, experts moot air marshals for Malaysia


Wednesday March 26, 2014
06:36 AM GMT+8

March 26, 2014
03:54 PM GMT+8

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has prompted experts to suggest an air marshal programme will make air travel safer. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 through “deliberate action” despite layers of security technology is prompting experts to ask if a humble air marshal could help make air travel safer.

While police conducting a criminal investigation are yet to determine if the Beijing-bound plane fell foul to hijacking, sabotage, psychological issues or personal problems of the 239 people on board, one expert believes that one well-trained individual on board could make a crucial difference in such a scenario.

“Properly trained and deployed air marshals provide a critical last line of defence in a hijacking incident in-flight or on the ground,” former US air marshal Marcus Wynne told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview.

“Not having air marshals means that all other security measures cannot fail; obviously they do on occasion. Air marshals can provide the ultimate fail-safe procedure,” added Wynne, who served from 1989 to 1993, during the First Gulf War, in the US Federal Air Marshal Program, which was then part of the Civil Aviation Security Branch of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to Wynne, the duties of an air marshal — depending on country and whether their deployment is overt or covert — include profiling passengers pre-boarding; inspecting the aircraft pre-boarding for explosives; surveilling suspicious individuals before, during and after a flight; intervening against those interfering with flight crew or endangering the aircraft short of a hijacking; as well as stopping hijackers from taking control of an aircraft.

International terrorism expert Professor Adam Dolnik from Australia’s University of Wollongong stressed, however, that air marshals are just one part in the available range of air travel security measures.

“It’s one of the steps, but it’s not fool-proof,” Dolnik told The Malay Mail Onlinein a recent phone interview.

He added that Flight MH370 was probably not hijacked, pointing out that pilot suicide — among the possibilities under investigation by Malaysian police — was a more likely one.

The Czech-born researcher stressed that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US altered the dynamics of hijackings, turning passengers now fearful of death at the hands of hijackers into more effective deterrent than air marshals.

“Before September 11, we were told to sit down, shut up, and if you get hijacked, don’t do anything. After [September 11], the prospect of being flown into a building and getting killed is very high.

“So if somebody makes a hijacking, unless they have a machine gun, they’ll find it very hard to hold off passengers. If you have a few people with knives, it just wouldn’t do the trick,” said Dolnik.

The professor said the US air marshal service was beefed up after the 2001 attacks in which four planes were hijacked and two crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, but noted that the armed guards protecting American aircraft for decades before then had not prevented the incident.

The al Qaeda attacks also spurred other countries like Australia and Singapore to deploy armed marshals on some flights.

Ravi Madavaram, an aerospace and defence consultant from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, stressed that it was difficult to come up with specific recommendations as it is still unclear what caused the plane to go missing.

He said, however, that air marshals and satellite technology are among the various security measures being considered for airlines.

“People are even considering things like (how) pilots should not have the capability to switch off the transponder,” Ravi told The Malay Mail Online, referring to the onboard radio transmitter in the cockpit that relays the aircraft’s position, altitude and identity to ground controllers.

On MH370, investigators believe both the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and transponder were disabled by someone on the flight, rendering the plane invisible to commercial radar used by ground controllers.

Ravi said that a proposal to replace secondary radar — which is currently the main surveillance method for air traffic control networks around the world — with a satellite system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) was also being bandied about.

“All these things have a cost impact, operational impact, and regulatory part to it; all of them have to be considered,” he said.

Australia’s ABC News reported last Saturday that the ease with which Flight MH370 vanished highlighted the deficiencies of ground-based radar and radio communications in planes, quoting experts as saying that satellite-based navigation and communication was the way to go.

An overhaul of air traffic control systems, however, is costly, said the report, noting that funding constraints have prevented many airlines from adopting the ADS-B surveillance system.

According to ABC News, the US aerospace industry has been pushing for a US$40 billion overhaul of air traffic control systems, but the effort is being hampered by the complexity and cost of the undertaking.

But air marshals are not necessarily cheaper to implement. Since its introduction in the 1960s, the air marshal programme has cost the US approximately US$860 million (RM2.8 billion at current exchange rates), according to one American lawmaker’s estimation.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed told The Malay Mail Online recently that a comprehensive re-evaluation of aviation security and border control was necessary in light of the MH370 crisis.

But he stressed that it was also crucial to have a cost-benefit analysis when considering such proposals.

Using the highest level of security would “cost a lot of money”, said the Pulai MP.

When asked if Malaysia would consider introducing air marshals, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said that the disappearance of the jetliner has prompted a re-examination of the global aviation industry as a whole, including on aspects of security and surveillance.

But he told a televised press conference yesterday that specific proposals can only be looked at once the plane is found, saying: “Even experts around the world cannot tell me more unless we have more information, and that must come from the plane itself”. - The Malay Mail Online



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