False alarm triggers massive emergency operation in Amsterdam

Airline crew member accidentally triggered hijacking alarm on plane in Schiphol airport

A substantial portion of the airport, including Pier D and part of Pier E, was closed down, causing significant disruption to arriving and departing flights and long queues for passengers. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA

A substantial portion of the airport, including Pier D and part of Pier E, was closed down, causing significant disruption to arriving and departing flights and long queues for passengers. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA

 

A massive emergency operation – including the deployment of the elite anti-terrorist Special Intervention Service – was triggered at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam on Wednesday evening when a crew member of a Spanish airline set off an onboard hijack alarm by accident.

Air Europa flight UX1094 to Madrid was boarding at the airport’s busy Pier D, which services mainly European airlines, when the alarm went off, locking the airport authorities into a series of emergency protocols, including the deployment of the special forces.

A substantial portion of the airport, including Pier D and part of Pier E, was closed down, causing significant disruption to arriving and departing flights and long queues for passengers. Some of that disruption may continue into Thursday.

Police said they were dealing with “a serious situation”, while other sources at the airport said that on the basis of the alarm they were dealing with “a possible hijacking”.

‘Nothing has happened’

Pictures posted on social media showed emergency vehicles spread across the tarmac near the aircraft while the airport authorities tried to establish what had happened on board – and whether the captain and crew were being held against their will.

As the situation became clearer, it was reported that the hijack alarm had been set off accidentally by the captain of the aircraft, but Air Europa later refused to confirm this, saying only that it had been set off by a member of the crew and that it had been “a false alarm”.

“Nothing has happened”, the airline tweeted. “All passengers are safe and sound and waiting to fly soon. We had a false alarm. We are deeply sorry.”

Dutch military police confirmed that they had escorted the crew and the 27 passengers who had already boarded when the alarm was triggered, off the aircraft. However, they said that their investigation into exactly what happened would continue.

Transport hub

Schiphol Airport is one of the busiest transport hubs in Europe, handling more than 70 million passengers a year and is constantly on high alert for possible terrorist attacks.

Parliament in The Hague was suspended for a time once the alert went up to allow justice and security minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, to take charge of the situation.

The incident was described as a GRIP-3 alert, meaning a serious situation with potentially major consequences, and, as a result, prime minister, Mark Rutte, said he was being kept informed of developments.