1991 hijacking of SQ117: How SAF commandos took down men reportedly armed with explosives

On 26th March 1991, Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 was hijacked by four passengers who claimed to be members of the Pakistan People's Party and were reportedly armed with explosives and knifes.

According to a post on The Singapore Army facebook page, the SAF Commandos were ordered to storm the aircraft and rescue the hostages on 27 March at 6.47am.

Within minutes, the threat was neutralised, and all hostages were led off the aircraft unharmed.

23 years on, passengers and crew on board the flight as well as a member of the SAF Commandos involved in the rescue recount first-hand their experience.

Another post on The Singapore Army tumblr page details how the plane was immediately surrounded by police officers when it touched down at Changi International Ariport. The hostage negotiators and the crisis management team from the ministries of Defence and Home Affairs were immediately activated.

SQ 117 was towed from the runway to an isolated apron near the VIP Complex. Two Singapore Airlines crew members were then thrown out of the plane. The hijackers demanded the release of nine prisoners detained in Pakistan, including Asif Ali Zadori, the husband of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

When the negotiation started to break down, the hijackers issued a five-minute deadline for negotiators to comply with their demands before they started harming hostages.

At three minutes to the deadline, SAF Commandos trained to undertake hijack rescue operations were ordered to storm the aircraft and rescue the hostages. Within minutes, all four hijackers were shot dead and the other passenger and crew were unharmed. There were no casualties.

This incident was our nation's second encounter with international terrorism since the Laju incident on January 31, 1974.

It showed that in spite of how security conscious we might nave been, such an incident still took place. A decade after this hijack, another four planes were hijacked in the United States of America leading to one of the most devastating acts of terrorism. It reminds us that while we might be enjoying this period of peace, we must never take anything for granted.

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