Monday, April 25, 2011
A would-be hijacker armed with a knife tried to hijack an Alitalia passenger plane last night and demanded it be flown to Libya.
As 131 passengers looked on in terror, Valery Tolmachev, a 48-year-old Kazakh diplomat who lives in Paris, held a knife to the throat of an air stewardess and demanded the Paris to Rome flight be diverted to Tripoli.
The incident happened at around 7.30pm soon after flight AZ329 had taken off.
Tolmachev calmly walked up to a female flight attendant and then placed a Swiss Army knife with a 3in blade against her throat, said a police source.
He was dressed all in white and was laughing uncontrollably at times, ordering the pilots to fly to Tripoli, he added.
Tolmachev, who works for a delegation from Kazakhstan which liaises with UNESCO, was then jumped from behind by four other flight attendants, supported by passengers.
They over-powered him and he was held on the floor of the plane. There was a doctor among the passengers and he was able to inject the man with a tranquiliser to calm him down and make him feel drowsy.
'The man grabbed the stewardess from behind her back and pointed the knife. She was in difficulty and tried to turn around,' a passenger named Sofia told reporters.
Stefanie, a French woman who lives in Italy, describing yesterday's incident said the man laughed when the stewardess asked him to go the front of the plane with her.
'He held her for just a few minutes and then the other flight attendants intervened and passengers helped hold the man to the floor,' she said.
After the knifeman was subdued, flight AZ329 landed safely at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, where he was arrested by police.
Tolmachev is now being held in prison and is expected to be charged with attempted hijacking and kidnapping. During a five hour interrogation he told police that he spoke six languages and was a married father with two children. He has no previous criminal record.
Detectives said he was suffering from psychological problems, and had no obvious links with terrorist groups.
However, the ease with which he originally overpowered the flight attendant and tried to get the plane to fly to Libya will be the subject of a major investigation.
Most major airlines, including Alitalia, have suspended flights to Tripoli since the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi began in February.
An Alitalia representative told NYDailyNews.com: 'Thanks to the prompt intervention of attendants, the aggressor was immobilized and [kept] in his seat, and the flight continued on to Rome.'
The air stewardess who was injured in the attack was treated in the airport's emergency room after landing.
Posted by Cole at 5:10 AM