A Ukrainian passenger made a bomb threat and tried to hijack a plane to the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi on Friday, but the pilots hoodwinked him and continued on to Turkey, where he was duly arrested, authorities said.
Turkey scrambled fighter jets to accompany the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 as it landed at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport after a flight from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov.
The man — identified as Artem Hozlov, 45 — was seized and all 109 other passengers were safely evacuated, Istanbul Mayor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said. No explosives were found.
Turkish authorities said that after the flight left Kharkov, the man announced that he had a bomb and wanted to go to Sochi. That's when the pretense began.
The flight crew told Hozlov that they were redirecting the flight to Sochi — while secretly staying on course for Istanbul. The pilots turned off the in-flight passenger maps so he couldn't discover the ruse.
Once the plane entered Turkish airspace, the pilots triggered an alarm that summoned an escort of two Turkish F-16s. Hozlov — reportedly drunk — was taken into custody and carted away on a stretcher.
"This was a textbook response from the flight crew to keep him under control and get the aircraft to a safe place," said Michael Leiter, former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.
The Winter Olympics kicked off with the opening ceremony Friday.
Richard Engel of NBC News contributed to this report from Sochi, Russia.
First published February 7 2014, 9:50 AM
M. Alex Johnson
M. Alex Johnson is a senior writer for NBC News covering general news, with an emphasis on explanatory journalism and data analysis. Johnson joined NBCNews.com in January 2000 from The Washington Post, where he was news editor of washingtonpost.com and night city editor of the print edition. He has also worked at the Knight-Ridder Washington bureau, Congressional Quarterly and The Charlotte Observer, where he was part of a team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service. He is a member of the National Press Club, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Online News Association.