Air Europa’s Bizarre Hijacking Scare

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Well, for once I’m happy about “fake news,” but I have so many questions.

This evening a major security scare happened at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. At around 7:30PM an Air Europa Airbus A330 bound for Madrid had a hijacking scare. The pilots had squawked 7500, which is the code pilots enter when there’s a hijacking.

As is normal in these kinds of situations, this was taken seriously, and the police response was massive, as planes were kept away, terminals were cleared, and more.

From the beginning there were some questions about whether this was a mistake or not, though. For example, this happened during the boarding process. Typically if a plane were to be hijacked it wouldn’t happen during the boarding process when the door is open, but rather once the plane has departed.

What makes this even stranger is that there were reports of three people with knives on the plane, who were allegedly the hijackers.

Well, as it turns out the entire thing was a mistake. Air Europa has now apologized on Twitter, explaining that it was a false alarm, and that the alarm was triggered by mistake.

It’s now being reported that the reason the pilot accidentally squawked 7500 was because he was explaining to an “intern” what the transponder codes are for. Oops. Well, I think it’s safe to say that the “intern” now has a pretty good understanding of that!

Bottom Line

I’m happy that this was a false alarm, and that nothing actually happened. It of course makes sense for airports to always respond in full force in these situations.

What I find strange about the situation is how details quite widely emerged about three guys with knives who were allegedly on the plane. I don’t know if someone just started the rumor and so many sources picked up on it or what, but that sure is an odd element to this.

The fact that the pilot also activated all of this because of showing an “intern” what the buttons are for sure is something (assuming that part isn’t fake news).

  1. Aircraft are equipped with transponders that transmit a four-digit code. The transponder code for “HIJACKING” is 7500 which will send a silent alert to Air Traffic Control that a hijacking is in progress. To avoid this, I turn the transponder off before setting the new ATC issued squawk code just to be sure that I don’t set off an accidental alarm.

  2. During the attempted coup in Istanbul, the crowds in the lounge had 3 major panic waves (as in screaming, falling down the big staircase, toppling people in front or anybody not massive/fast enough) – and there was absolutely NOTHING happening in the immediate vicinity. Maybe a kid screamed, maybe someone tripped on rollaboard, and that was enough for jittery crowds to go complete berzerk.

    Never underestimate the power of mob mentality.

  3. @Jeff @Steve as a pilot myself I can confirm that even I don’t turn the transponder off before changing my squawk code. Well done Steve, well done.

  4. @steve Does this leave any abnormalities in flight tracking data (like holes or gaps in FR24 or Flightaware?)

  5. Probably a bored Russian troll farmer started the rumour on his coffee break from disrupting democratic institutions.

  6. There is no ‘fake news’ here.

    There was an actual incident – a real one – not a fake one or an imaginary one.

    That it didn’t turn out to be an actual hijack – just a mistake – still does not mean this is fake news.

    What would be fake news is if in the future this incident is described as an hijacking.

  7. On the knife aspect, about two years ago there was an suspected terrorist attack in central London. People were tweeting about they had to step over dead bodies when fleeing to a safe area.

    There was no terrorist attack, there were no bodies. What actually happened is unclear, but people were reporting all sorts of things happening. None of which actually happened. As someone above said, mob mentality took over.

  8. Steve, but turning it off would cause the atc to loose the signal for a few seconds. Just don’t forget to turn it back on, otherwise it can be potentially dangerous if the atc don’t see the lost squawk alert (this happened before but perhaps it’s harder to happen nowadays).

  9. @ Calin, @ Alan. The transponder code that was being used is NO LONGER VALID due to ATC issuing a new squawk code so there is no gap. The whole operation is done is a matter of seconds. Thanks for your concern.

  10. Why did they even turn on the transponder at the gate? At the gate it should be in standby mode. In standby you can preset any code in it, (like if you wanted to show someone how to input a code), and it does’t transmit till you turn it on. You turn it on when ready for pushback so ATC can see your aircraft. It should never have been turned on while boarding.

  11. In the news industry we call them Lie Witnesses. People who want their few seconds of fame or whose brains can’t handle an ounce of stress and just make up something for the cameras.

  12. So many comments, so many misinformed people… ADS-B, STBY, ALT… all the knowledge you used to be familiar with is now an artifact.

  13. @Marija, there was a great threat in the lounge at IST during the coup. The bulletholes were in the windows at the lounge. I would panic too.

  14. Why would he even do that in the first place? Just stay away from squawk codes 7500, 7600 and 7700. I mean, even to just SHOW an intern. Why not just tell him? I bet he’d show his child what to do in case of an emergency at home; just call 911! Then he would! Followed by a quick hung up. Nothing sketchy there, right?

  15. I hope a big invoice will be send to the airline. It makes no sense to send this code AT THE GATE while still boarding. It was a big mess. Many responders, police, ambulances, rapid heavily armed response team, closing of the airport. they cut the live camera feeds also in surrounding area/tunnels. there were 2 F16 fighter jets scrambled to protect the airspace. I would say that is a good response for an otherwise “soft” Netherlands

  16. @eric
    Of course it makes no sense, it was a mistake. A good drill though.
    It has been announced that Air Europa will not be billed for the mistake, so I suppose that supports your impression of a “soft” Netherlands.

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