Even as the Pathankot terrorist attack ran into its third day yesterday, an Istanbul-bound flight was grounded at Mumbai airport after an abandoned iPhone was found on the aircraft, raising a security threat. Neither cleaning staff nor security officials who had checked the aircraft had spotted it earlier. After the passengers were deplaned, the phone was checked and declared harmless, and the flight took off over 4.5 hours after the original scheduled time.
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Turkish Airlines flight TK 721 (Mumbai to Istanbul) was to depart at 6.50 am; it had pushed back ten minutes before and was about to taxi when a suspicious iPhone was found under seat number 26D. The pilot decided to turn into the isolation bay as a precaution, especially considering the high alert raised after the Pathankot attack, and the aircraft returned from the ramp around 7.09 am.
This unclaimed iPhone posed a security threat and forced the pilot of the Turkish Airlines flight to return from the tarmac
The airplane, a Boeing 777-300ER (twin-jet), had 332 passengers on board. All the passengers were offloaded with their hand baggage and the phone was checked and declared safe.
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However, passengers had to undergo security check afresh at transit Security Hold Area (SHA). The fliers were frisked and given new boarding passes, as staffers from Turkish Airlines, as well as Air India (the ground handling agency for the international airline) conducted an anti-sabotage check. The flight eventually took off at 11.36 am.
This aircraft had only gone through one security inspection, as it had just arrived from Istanbul (TK 720) and was to take off again within a span of two hours.
It is still worrying, however, that the phone wasn’t spotted earlier, especially since both the cleaning staff and the security officials had combed through the aircraft before it was cleared for departure.
An airport official explained, “Whenever a flight lands and passengers leave the aircraft, the cleaning staff is the first to enter and clean the aircraft completely. After the cleaning process, security officials conduct a thorough check. Only after this is the aircraft prepared for the next journey. It is strange that even after the cleaning staff and the security officials conducted an overall check, no one noticed the handset.”
The handset is currently at the ‘Lost and Found’ department at Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL).