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India's tryst with plane hijacks

A look back at the dozen odd hijack attempts on Indian airliners

Nikhil Inamdar  |  Mumbai 


Aviation experts are busy piecing evidence about what happened to the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, with the country’s prime minister suggesting that the disappearance was a ‘deliberate action’, fuelling the theory.

As investigators and intelligence agencies work overtime to gather more information, here’s a look back at the dozen odd attempts on Indian airliners, the first of which was made as far back as 1971.

January 30, 1971

An Fokker F27 – the Ganga was forced by hijackers Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashram to land in Lahore where passengers were released and the aircraft was blown up after being set on fire leading to an India-Pakistan air-travel ban, and suspension of over flight rights until 1976. According to the Indian Express, after landing in Lahore, “Qureshi and his cousin were treated like heroes but were later taken into custody — many in Pakistan alleged they were Indian agents. Qureshi served a nine-year jail term in Pakistan, after which he went to the Netherlands where he remained for 20 years, even getting citizenship of that country. His cousin remained in Pakistan after release from jail. On December 29, 2000, Qureshi was brought back to the Valley.” As of 2010, the trial was still underway and Hashim Qureshi is now Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party (DLP).

September 10, 1976

A hopping Delhi-Jaipur-Mumbai flight (IC 491) was commandeered and taken to Lahore where the hijackers were overpowered. The 66 passengers and crew returned to Delhi a day later after diplomatic relations between the two neighbors were re-established and the Pakistani government helped with the rescue operations.

December 20, 1978

Congress politicians and friends Devendra Nath Pandey and Bhola Nath Pandey hijacked flight IC-410 as it flew over Aligarh, to protest the imprisonment of Indira Gandhi by the Janata Party government. Press reports suggest the was planned with toy guns and 132 passengers were kept hostage for a few hours. The duo was later awarded assembly tickets by the Congress government for this deed and went on to contest elections in 1980. Speaking to Outlook magazine in 2000, Bholanath Pandey said "It was purely a political protest for a great Indian leader (Indira Gandhi) who was sent to jail unfairly…We had no weapons and as we entered the cabin we announced our intention to the passengers.”

1981 to 1983

Between September 1981, and August 1984, Sikh terrorist outfit Dal Khalsa hijacked as many as three aircraft, with an intention of taking them to Lahore on each instance. On the first occasion on September 29th 1981, they were overpowered by Pakistani commandos, while in 1982, 2 hijacked planes were refused permission to land in the Pakistani city, resulting in the hijacks being terminated in Amritsar. One of these was the August 22, 1982 attempt by a Sikh militant, who armed with a pistol and a hand grenade, single handedly took control of theIndian Airlines flight from Mumbai to New Delhi carrying 69 persons. Reports suggest security forces killed the hijacker and rescued all passengers which included Peter Lamont, production designer working on the James Bond film Octopussy.

August 24, 1984:

Seven young Sikh hijackers seized an Indian Airlines jetliner flying from Delhi to Srinagar and took it to UAE. The New York Times reported that the hijackers were members of the banned All-India Sikh Students Federation and “armed with bombs, pistols and Sikh daggers, threatened to kill all the passengers and blow up the aircraft if their demands were not met.” 5 passengers were believed to have been released on a first refueling stop in Lahore, Pakistan and 2 more during another stop in Karachi. The other 79 passengers and 6 crew members were freed in Dubai more than 24 hours after the aircraft was hijacked. The outfit ended the hijacking after negotiations with the then UAE Defense Minister Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Just a month earlier, in July 1984, Indian Airlines flight IC 405 from Pathankot to Lahore was hijacked between Srinagar and Mumbai. The three perpetrators of this hijack were sentenced to death by a lower court in Pakistan.

June 23, 1985:

Probably amongst the most tragic aviation disasters of all time, the 182 from Toronto via Montreal and London to New Delhi exploded off the coast of Ireland while it was preparing to land at Heathrow airport in London. The explosion killed all 329 people on board - 82 of the victims were children and 280 were Canadian citizens. The hijack was said to be orchestrated by supporters of the Khalistan movement and was the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet. Only one person – Inderjit Singh Reyat has been convicted of involvement in the bombing. He pleaded guilty in 2003 and received a five-year sentence.

1993 – 1994

On Jan 22, 1993 A Patna-Lucknow-Delhi Indian Airlines flight IC-810 was hijacked by Satish Chandra Pandey – a BJP supporter from Sultanpur shortly after take-off. He was reportedly protesting against P.V. Narasimha Rao’s assurance after the demolition of the Babri Masjid that it will be reconstructed. He is known to have surrendered at the insistence of Vajpayee.

April 1993 saw two separate hijackings of Indian Airlines planes. On April 10, an Indian Airlines Lucknow-Delhi Flight IC-436 was hijacked by four college students of the Lucknow Arts College seeking to postpone their college exams. They eventually surrendered, overpowered by passengers. A few days later on April 24, a Delhi-Srinagar IA Boeing 737 with 141 passengers and six crew members was seized with the intention to be diverted to Kabul. The plane landed in Amritsar and the two hijackers were immediately killed by NSG commandos.

Early next year on January 13th, 1994 a Delhi – Chennai Airbus 320 with 56 passengers and 7 crew members was hijacked by a man who wanted Marathwada University to be renamed after Dr B R Ambedkar.

December 24, 1999

Famously known as the hijack, the Indian Airlines flight 814 flying from Kathmandu was captured and diverted to in Afghanistan by the Pakistani militant outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, The aircraft touched down in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, before being flown to Taliban controlled 25 passengers were released in Dubai, one passenger was stabbed to death and several were wounded. The hostage crisis ended after 7 days after India agreed to release 3 militants in exchange of the 155 hostages. The then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had accompanied the terrorists to Afghanistan to secure the release of passengers and crew aboard flight 814.One of them, Maulana Masood Azhar founded Jaish-e-Muhammed in 2000 which masterminded the famous 2001 Indian Parliament attack.

There hasn’t been another commandeering attempt in India since 1999, except a false alarm on an Alliance Air flight from Mumbai to Delhi sometime in 2001.

First Published: Tue, March 18 2014. 16:09 IST