An Australian man has appeared in a Sydney courtroom accused of making a telephone bomb threat that resulted in two F-16 fighter jets intercepting a Singapore Airlines plane as it approached Changi Airport (SIN) on March 26th. The 39-year old New South Wales native allegedly called Mumbai International Airport and told officials a bomb was onboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ423 from Mumbai to Singapore.
Perhaps the hoaxer was inspired by Mumbai’s official airport code – BOM.
But the whole incident most certainly wasn’t a laughing matter for any of the 263 passengers onboard the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The first they knew of the bomb threat was when two F-16 fighter jets from the Singapore Air Force intercepted the passenger plane and escorted it safely to Changi Airport.
All the passengers were forced to go through a screening process on arrival into Singapore, while one mother and her child were detained even longer because cabin crew thought they had been acting suspiciously during the flight. As it turned out, they, of course, had nothing to do with the threat and were subsequently released.
Authorities claim the bomb hoax caused significant disruption and delays to airlines and passengers in Singapore. Along with the delay, deploying fighter jets from Singapore’s Air Defence Task Force would have cost thousands of dollars.
The specialist unit tracks more than 350 threats every year and Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee says his unit is likely to adopt a “more precautionary” posture to threats when there’s uncertainty over the veracity of the information or threat.
Nonetheless, even with this ‘better safe than sorry’ attitude, the Singapore Air Force has only had to scramble fighter jets on a tiny number of occasions in order to intercept civilian aircraft. The last time, except for this year’s incident, fighter jets intercepted a passenger plane is believed to be back in 2008.