Attempted hijacking in Fiji foiled

19 May 1987

The attempted hijacking of an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 at Nadi airport, Fiji, was thwarted when a member of the cabin crew struck the hijacker on the head with a whisky bottle.

Flight TE24 was en route to Auckland from Tokyo carrying 129 passengers and crew when it made a scheduled stop in Nadi to refuel. Ahmjed Ali, a Fiji Indian who worked for Air Terminal Services as an aircraft refueller, flashed his security card at cabin crew as he walked onto the flight deck. He closed the door and revealed to Captain Graeme Gleeson that he was carrying dynamite. The plane was being hijacked.

These were tense times in Fiji. A military coup d’état led by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka had overthrown the elected government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra five days earlier. Ahmjed Ali wanted to escape from Fiji, but he also hoped his actions would force the military to release Bavadra and his Cabinet from custody.

All 105 passengers − mainly Japanese tourists − and 21 cabin crew were able to disembark while the drama unfolded in the cockpit. For six hours Ali talked to relatives in the Nadi tower and Air New Zealand negotiators in Auckland. The increasingly agitated hijacker chain-smoked so that he could easily light the fuse.

At around 1 p.m., while Ali was momentarily distracted by the radio, flight engineer Graeme Walsh king-hit him with a bottle of duty-free whisky. Walsh admitted that he ‘thumped him on the head as hard as I could. I really wanted to hurt him.’ Ali was overpowered by the crew and handed over to local police.  

Ali was convicted of taking explosives onto a plane and given a suspended sentence. He later became a Fijian MP and in 2009 was granted permanent residency in New Zealand.