Security staff at the Hotan airport have not been found guilty of any dereliction of duty after a foiled plane hijack attempt last week, the public security chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China said on Friday.
On June 29, the cabin crew and passengers on Tianjin Airlines' flight GS7554, which flew from Hotan to Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, foiled an attempt by six would-be hijackers. At least 10 people were injured.
Media reports quoted passengers as saying that the hijackers waved metal bars that were hidden inside crutches, and took out lighters to ignite bottles suspected of containing explosives.
Song Shengli, head of the CAAC's public security bureau, told a news conference on Friday that a joint investigation team that went to the Hotan airport immediately after the hijack attempt was foiled sealed up all materials related to the airport's security work, including images and videos.
"So far, the team has not found any dereliction of duty concerning the airport's security checks. We have not found that any explosive was overlooked and taken on board," he said, without explaining how the dangerous articles were taken inside the plane.
All airports and airlines have raised security levels and boosted security measures, he said.
"We have also positioned more air police officers and security staff on flights, strengthened patrols at airports, and asked security staff to pay special attention to people that look suspicious," he said.
Work will also start soon to study how to conduct security checks on crutches, to guarantee safety while not causing any inconvenience for passengers, according to Li Jian, deputy head of the CAAC.
Also on Friday, the flight crew talked about the incident for the first time, after they were rewarded 1 million yuan ($157,000) by the CAAC for their bravery. Two security staff members on board the flight, Du Yuefeng and Xu Yang, and purser Guo Jia, were named heroes by China's civil aviation authorities.
Zou Jingsong, the flight captain, said that the plane took off at 12:25 pm as scheduled. But at 12:32 pm, when the plane was 5,700 meters above ground, he heard people screaming and sounds of fighting.
"From the monitor, I saw several people strangling each other. A red light was on briefly indicating the door of the cockpit was opened, but it soon died out," he said.
Guo Jia, the purser on the flight, said: "When I regained consciousness after being hit on the head by a man, I immediately informed the captain and pushed an in-flight trolley to block the door of the cockpit, as the contingency plan asks for."
"This angered the hijackers, who tried twice to ignite the suspected explosives. We rushed out to stop them, but we were not strong enough to confront them and one of my flight attendants asked the passengers through the speakers to help fight the hijackers," she said.
At the same time, one of the security staff on board, Du Yuefeng, who was seated in the middle of the cabin, saw a few men rushing to the cockpit.
"I stood up to stop them but was hit on the head and passed out for a few seconds," he recalled.
When the demobilized soldier woke up, he fought with two men in the middle of cabin. After taking them down, he rushed to the plane's front section and helped fight the other suspects.
"Some passengers took off their belts, with which I tied up the suspects," he said.
By this time, the captain had already piloted the plane back to the Hotan airport and informed police on the ground. At 12:45 pm, the plane landed safely.
"It was just several minutes, but it felt like the longest time of suffering in my life," he said.
Li Jiaxiang, head of the CAAC, said that the attack was foiled due to the mid-air anti-hijacking contingency plan, the heroic behavior of the cabin crew who were well trained to handle emergencies, and the coordination of the passengers.