Cops admit bad communication with plane passengers during 'potential security incident' probe

THE police have admitted they could have communicated better with passengers who spent around five hours waiting to leave their plane while officers investigated a "potential security incident".

The 280 people, who were on Singapore Airlines flight SQ921 from Manila, were kept in the Airbus A330-300 for about an hour after it landed at Changi Airport at 10.50pm on April 19. They then had to wait another four hours at the gate.

No arrests were made, said a police spokesman, who declined to give further details as investigations are ongoing. According to wire reports, the incident may have been sparked by a bomb hoax.

Passenger Edwin Lim, 39, wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page last Friday and told of how passengers were left irate. He said the plane was diverted to a holding area on landing, whereupon passengers were told the jet was "under a security threat".

Speaking to The Straits Times later, he said that after close to an hour, police officers boarded and began walking through the plane with torchlights.

One officer took a video of all the passengers, he added. They were later ushered off the plane in batches of about 30, and onto coaches that took them to the waiting area.

Mr Lim, a sales director, said he later saw fire engines with their lights on, apparently ready for action. He said that around 180 passengers missed their connecting flights, adding: "It was already 4am by the time they were finished."

Mr Lim said that at no point during the incident did the police give them further explanation or assurances, and that the way the situation was handled was "not logical". "People were calm, but the lack of communication did not give us a lot of confidence in the way they were doing things."

Replying to Mr Lim's letter, assistant director of media relations, Supt Ho Yenn Dar, agreed that the police could have communicated better with the passengers, and would look to make improvements.

He added: "While time-consuming, (the search was) a necessary procedure to eliminate the possibility of threat before we can declare the plane safe.

"Any threats involving an aircraft are taken seriously due to the potential loss of lives if an incident were to occur."

davidee@sph.com.sg

yanliang@sph.com.sg