Saudia plane isolated in Manila after false distress call

In this image made from video, people disembark a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane from Jeddah as it is parked at the airport in Manila, the Philippines, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (AP Photo)
In this image made from video, people disembark a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane from Jeddah as it is parked at the airport in Manila, the Philippines, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (AP Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The flight crew of a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane mistakenly pressed a hijack warning button as it approached Manila’s airport on Tuesday, causing airport officials to mobilize security forces and isolate the jet after it landed, Philippine officials said.

Manila airport manager Eddie Monreal and other officials said Flight SV872 from Jiddah made the distress call about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the airport. Airport authorities asked for a verification of the emergency message and the flight crew confirmed the distress call twice, he said. It was not immediately clear how the confirmation was made, he said.

However, the captain later told the control tower that a button indicating that a hijacking was in progress had been pushed accidently, Monreal said.

He said the Boeing 777 was isolated after it landed and security personnel were deployed as a precaution. The passengers were later allowed to disembark.

Some of those coming off the plane were dressed in white, likely indicating that they were returning from the annual hajj pilgrimage, a ritual required of all able-bodied Muslims once in a lifetime.

The 71-year-old airline, which operates 119 planes, does brisk business during the hajj, which reached its climax last week.

Monreal said the plane was carrying 410 passengers and 21 crew members.

The incident came after Phillipine officials in February announced they had strengthened security for Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Manila and its national airline because of a possible threat. At the time, officials also said additional armed officers were posted in the boarding area for the Saudi flag carrier and to guard the airline’s luggage.

It did not elaborate on the threat. However, it came as the Sunni-ruled kingdom has been on increasingly hostile terms with Shiite power Iran.

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