UPDATE: ‘Miscommunication’ triggers hijack alert at Amsterdam
[Edit. Note: This story was updated from a previous version.]
Dutch authorities scrambled fighter jets Wednesday after an alert over a feared hijacking of an airliner but it turned out to be a false alarm that officials blamed on “miscommunication.”
Two F-16 warplanes were sent up to escort the Vueling flight from Malaga to Amsterdam with 180 passengers on board after it entered Dutch airspace without making radio contact.
Military police responsible for security at Schiphol airport surrounded the Airbus A320 after it landed but eventually ascertained that everything was normal aboard, a spokesman said.
The alert capped a day of high drama at Europe’s fifth-largest airport after workers at an excavation earlier discovered a bomb dating back to World War II, prompting the partial evacuation of one of its busy terminals.
“The report over the hijacking seemed to have been a miscommunication,” Dutch police said in a tweet on their official Twitter account after the “hijack” incident, explaining that “No radio contact was possible” with the plane.
“Therefore, no hijacking,” the police said, as Spanish airline Vueling confirmed there had been a “momentary loss of communication” between the aircraft and the ground.
“It’s not true,” a Vueling spokeswoman told AFP in Madrid when asked about the hijacking report, adding, “the plane landed safely” after its flight from Malaga in southern Spain.
“The plane was escorted this afternoon by planes from the Dutch airforce,” Vueling later said in a statement. “This measure was taken because due to a reason still unknown, communication was lost between the plane and the control tower.”
Dutch military police spokesman Martijn Peelen told AFP “we received news that a plane headed for the airport was accompanied by two F-16 fighters and no contact was possible. We were obliged to activate certain security protocols.”
He said after the Airbus landed at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT) it was approached by hostage negotiators, who were told by the pilot the situation was normal.
Passengers later disembarked and were taken to a terminal by bus, he said.
Dutch media also quoted passengers speaking from inside the plane via mobile phone as denying they had been hijacked.
“There is nothing going on in here,” one passenger told Dutch national news agency NOS during a live broadcast.
“Once down, the pilot told us there was nothing special going (in the plane) but something was happening at the airport,” the passenger added.
Spanish newspaper El Pais said on its website that it was not the first such incident involving a Vueling plane, which previously had to be escorted by a French fighter plane after radio contact was lost.
The alarm came as Schiphol was coping with flight cancellations and delays after workers found a bomb dating back to World War II.
Security personnel evacuated part of Terminal C as a precaution, while explosives experts tackled the bomb, removing it from the airport to allow disposal teams to detonate it safely.
Between 120,000 and 140,000 passengers pass daily through Schiphol, which was bombed at least twice during the war, first by the Luftwaffe during the German invasion in May 1940 and again by the Allies in December 1943.