Tension gripped the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Tuesday when members of the anti-hijacking unit of the Police Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup) surrounded a Saudi Airline plane after the pilot mistakenly pressed the distress call button.
The plane, a Boeing B777, landed at 2:39 p.m. but the 400 passengers were only allowed to disembark at 5 p.m.
Airport officials said the Manila Control Tower (MCT) received the distress call at 2:15 p.m., prompting authorities to believe that the plane was under threat.
Upon receiving the distress signal, airport authorities implemented a standard operating procedure “in accordance with the airport emergency plan.”
The plane, which came from Jeddah, was not allowed to dock at Terminal 1 and the pilot was advised to park at the end of the taxiway.
A crisis management team was deployed to verify if there was a hijacking incident.
Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal later told reporters that there was no hijacking and that the pilot in command made a mistake.
Monreal said the pilot accidentally pressed the distress button twice.
He said the control tower asked the pilot to confirm if the plane was under threat and he again pressed the distress button.
“We cannot take chances because we can not determine the real situation inside the aircraft. How can we say if the pilot is telling the truth if it was merely an accident or he may have been ordered to press the button at gun point,” he said.
The tension eased when the passengers were finally allowed to disembark.
However, they were subjected to rigid security check.
Because of the incident, two international flights were diverted to Clark International Airport.