PETALING JAYA - A Malaysia Airlines flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur returned to the Australian airport shortly after take off late on Wednesday (May 31) after a passenger attempted to enter the cockpit, authorities said.
Passengers and the crew of Flight MH128 had to tackle the man and tie him up with seat belts until the flight landed, one witness told Reuters.
The plane landed safely and the man was apprehended by airport security, said Malaysia Airlines, which is still recovering from two major airline disasters in recent years.
The airline stressed in a statement that the flight had not at any point been hijacked.
Flight MH128 returned to Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport "after the operating captain was alerted by a cabin crew of a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit", the statement said.
It had departed at 11.11pm Melbourne time and returned at 11.41pm.
"Malaysia Airlines together with the Australian authorities will be investigating the incident," the statement added.
Passengers disembarked safely from the aircraft and those affected were offered the next available flight or flights via other carriers, the airline said.
Arif Chaudhery, a passenger on board MH128, told Reuters that about 30 minutes into the flight a male passenger attacked a female member of the cabin crew who screamed out for help.
"Some passengers and crew grabbed the man and tackled him to the floor," Chaudhery said, adding that seat belts were used to tie the man's hands.
"We were very lucky. It could have been worse."
Armed security personnel entered the plane to remove the disruptive passenger and then escort the others out, he said.
Malaysia's Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi was quoted in the Star, a local news outlet, saying the passenger was drunk.
Australian aviator reporter Brendan Grainger that other passengers subdued the disruptive passenger and the Airbus A330 landed at Tullamarine Airport without anyone being hurt.
Other passengers subdued the attacker and an overweight landing was performed on RWY16. The aircraft is isolated at taxiway 'K'. https://t.co/OrTNUmaBoG— Brendan Grainger (@S118869) May 31, 2017
✈️ All flights to and from @Melair have been suspended due to a security incident. Passengers are advised to check with their airline.— Brendan Grainger (@S118869) May 31, 2017
Malaysia Airlines has seen two major airline disasters in recent years. In 2014, Flight MH370 with 239 people on board went missing on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Boeing 777 plane has yet to be found and its location is one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries. The deep-sea search for the missing plane was called off in January.
In a few months after MH370 went missing, Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in eastern Ukraine.
The airline has struggled to recover from the twin tragedies, having to cut staff and restructure its business as passenger numbers fell.
In response to the MH128 security incident, Victoria state police in Australia said there as no imminent threat to passengers, staff or public and the investigation was ongoing.
"It is alleged that a man tried to enter the cockpit and threatened the safety of passengers and staff," police said in a statement.
"The man did not gain entry to the cockpit. The man was subdued and a safety plan was enacted."
Aircraft tracking website Flightradar said flights bound for Melbourne had been diverted to other airports because of the incident.
Local media reports in Melbourne said the airport was in lockdown temporarily.
Tullamarine Airport officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Here is the airline's statement in full:
Malaysia Airlines flight MH128 of 31 May from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur was forced to turn back to Melbourne due to a disruptive passenger.
MH128 departed Melbourne Airport at 11.11pm and was to arrive Kuala Lumpur at 5.28am on 1 June made a turn back to Melbourne after the operating Captain was alerted by a cabin crew of a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit.
Safety and security are of Malaysia Airlines' utmost priority.
MH128 safely landed in Melbourne Airport at 11.41pm. The aircraft is currently on the remote bay and waiting for security assistance to arrive at the aircraft.