3 Dec 2008

Woman accused of hijacking plane to face trial

8:43 am on 3 December 2008

A woman accused of hijacking an Air New Zealand plane has been committed for trial.

Asha Abdille, 34, will face six charges during the trial to be held next year. They include hijacking and stabbing two pilots and a passenger during a flight from Blenheim to Christchurch on 8 February.

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Christchurch Airport.

At the end of a depositions hearing in Christchurch District Court on Tuesday, Ms Abdille's lawyers conceded there is a case to answer in five of the six charges.

However, Antony Shaw asked the Justices of the Peace to throw out a charge of injuring the co-pilot. His application was denied.

Ms Abdille was remanded in custody, but will return to a psychiatric hospital on Tuesday night where she is currently an informal patient.

Police told of bombs

A police officer involved in Ms Abdille's arrest told the depositions hearing on Tuesday how police questioned the accused after taking her off the aircraft.

Constable Nigel Barton took notes as other officers questioned Ms Abdille about the bombs she said she had on the Air New Zealand flight.

He relayed to the court that Ms Abdille was asked about the bombs, and she told police there were two, and they were in her bag and in a small brown box.

She also said they were homemade, but refused to tell police how they could be detonated. The officer said Ms Abdille told police that friends of hers were planning other attacks.

Ms Abdille was arrested after the plane landed at Christchurch Airport. No bombs were found on the plane.

Accused said passengers 'would die'

On Monday the court was told Ms Abdille told pilots and passengers they were all going to die, and then tried to use the controls to crash the plane into the sea, a court has been told.

Crown prosecutor Pip Currie told the court that 10 minutes into the flight Ms Abdille approached the pilots with a knife and demanded to be flown where she wanted to go.

The captain of the flight, who has name suppression, told the court he feared for his life and for the lives of his passengers as he was stabbed by a woman on his flight. He suffered a serious cut and part of his thumb later had to be amputated.

The pilot said Ms Abdille demanded to be flown to Australia, then said she had a bomb in her bag and that everyone was going to die.

The court was told Ms Abdille flicked some switches on the control panel, and the pilot said if she had managed to turn off the engines, he believed the plane would have crashed.

The pilot said he was also worried that a cellphone being used by the accused would be used to trigger a bomb she claimed to have with her. He tried to calm Ms Abdille down, as she was threatening to blow up the plane, but was concerned that she was pushing buttons on her cellphone in order to trigger the bomb.

The Crown says Ms Abdille had three knives on the flight with her, but no bomb was discovered.

The pilot told the court that once he landed the plane and the passengers were allowed to leave, he shoved Ms Abdille hard which sent her toppling backwards.

The co-pilot then kicked the knife out of her hand and threw it out of the plane, and armed police boarded to arrest Ms Abdille.

The pilot told the court Ms Abdille was mostly aggressive but her moods changed and she sometimes cried, and then was calm.

Under cross-examination by Ms Abdille's lawyer, the pilot said during the ordeal the woman told him she and her sister had been raped by police.

Defence lawyer Antony Shaw asked if the pilot recalled Ms Abdille asking to go to Africa, but he said he did not and only remembered her asking to be flown to Australia.

Witness feared plane would crash

A female passenger told the court she thought the accused would probably attack the pilot and that the plane would subsequently crash.

She described her fear that Ms Abdille would fatally stab another passenger, or that she would attack the pilots on the 19-seat aircraft.

The witness said she had tried to placate Ms Abdille, but was stabbed in the hand as she did so.

She said most other people on the flight were crying and extremely frightened, as Ms Abdille had told them they were all going to die.