False bomb threat on SIA plane: Passengers said aircraft circled in the air for about 40 minutes

Passengers from SQ33 leaving the airport at around 9.40am Singapore time on Sept 28, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Passengers on Singapore Airlines flight SQ33, which was delayed after a bomb hoax, remained calm even as fighter jets escorted the Airbus A350-941 to Changi Airport early on Wednesday.

Alice, an American who declined to give her name, said it became clear that it was not going to be a routine flight when the pilot announced over the intercom that the landing was delayed due to airspace congestion.

About 30 to 40 minutes later, the pilot said there was an unruly passenger onboard that needed attention.

A social media user, who goes by the name Vera and said she was a passenger on the plane, said on Twitter at 10.25am: "This guy yelled at the back of airplane saying there is a bomb."

Flight SQ33, which left San Francisco at 10.26pm on Monday (Tuesday, 1.26pm Singapore time), was supposed to have landed at Changi Airport at around 5am on Wednesday, after travelling more than 12 hours from San Francisco.

Alice, 60, and her husband are based in Singapore. They were on the flight back here after a three-month holiday in the United States.

She said she did not hear the unruly passenger make his threat.

The 37-year-old foreign national was arrested by the police after the aircraft, with 209 passengers and 17 crew onboard, landed at Changi Airport at 5.50am.

Flight data from tracking site Flightradar24 showed the plane made three loops over the South China Sea, before continuing on to Singapore.

It was then escorted by two Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 jets.

Flight data from tracking site Flightradar24 showed the plane made three loops over the South China Sea, before continuing on to Singapore. PHOTO: FLIGHTRADAR24

Twitter user Vera said of the fighter jet escort: "I thought someone important just arrived and didn't know that was us!"

The SIA plane remained on the tarmac for over three hours as the Singapore Armed Forces' Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group and Airport Police Division determined if the bomb threat was real.

The authorities later confirmed that there was no bomb.

Police said preliminary investigations showed that the passenger had allegedly claimed that there was a bomb in a hand-carry bag, and had assaulted a member of the cabin crew.

"He was restrained by the crew, and subsequently arrested... for suspected consumption of controlled drugs. Police investigations are ongoing," they added.

Alice said passengers remained calm even as they saw emergency vehicles rushing around.

She said the cabin crew had managed the situation well and did not appear overly anxious.

"At no point did we feel unsafe or anything like that. We just knew that we were landing and we stayed on the tarmac," she said, adding that the authorities, including the police, then boarded the plane.

"They did what they had to do and the man was eventually removed from the plane," said Alice.

Flight SQ33 reached Terminal 3 at about 9.20am, and the passengers were ushered away.

Twitter user Vera posted a picture of a bespectacled man with dark hair, clad in a white top and black pants, being led away in handcuffs inside the plane cabin.

She said: "Four hours delay because of this guy and he got arrested. Singapore! Here I am."

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