Kamuzu International Airport (KIA), Malawi’s major international airport, Sunday morning suffered a security breach after a man, suspected to be mentally ill, managed to board a plane grounded on the runway and spent the whole night in the plane without being detected.
The man, according to sources and officials, forcefully removed the emergency exit door of the plane, a Q400 Bombardier belonging to Malawian Airlines, to make his way into the plane at around 3am and was only detected several hours later by engineers who noticed that the plane’s door had been removed.
Malawian Airlines spokesperson Ovihlela Bunya confirmed the development and added that the plane had no scheduled flight on Sunday morning.
“We are still investigating the matter. The engineers went to check why the door was open and realised it had been removed, upon reaching the plane they saw a man inside and the man started running away from them. He was at the back of the plane and started running towards the cockpit,” said Bunya.
According to Bunya, the incident is even more baffling considering that the emergency door cannot be opened from outside.
She said Malawi Airlines is waiting for more details from the investigations, suffice to say the airport has police and other security agents responsible for all security matters.
“Safety is our top most priority hence we are making every effort to establish how this person managed to get inside the plane. The airport has been thoroughly searched for any alien elements and nothing has been found. The Q400 had no scheduled operation for the day,” Bunya said.
But KIA Police Public Relations Officer Sapulani Chitonde identified the man as James Govati, 25, from Kampachika Village, TA Mazengera in Lilongwe.
Chitonde’s version however, differed with the airport sources and the airline, saying officers apprehended the man before entering the plane.
“He was intercepted by police officers who were patrolling nearby. No door was opened. He was questioned and said he wanted to travel to South Africa for medical treatment,” said Chitonde.
Put to him that the Minister and airline confirmed the man was found inside the plane, the PRO insisted that the police were on the ground hence had more details.
Minister of Transport Francis Kasaila says he has briefed President Peter Mutharika on the incident and told The Nation later that government was working on getting to the bottom of the incident.
“We have been informed but I am yet to get a full report on the incident. So far, we know there was an intruder who went through one gate got on board a Malawian Airline, I will give a detailed update later after speaking to the airport commandant and police,” said Kasaila.
He said due to no flights at night, the airport is mostly deserted save for few security personnel mostly members of the Malawi Police Service.
A security source said the man, who is yet to undergo a medical test over his suspected mental illness, is believed to have entered using a gate used by dignitaries especially the president on a convoy going to the runway.
“The airline is very concerned and this will cause concerns to many sectors,” said the source.
The gate is manned by police officers and the surrounding perimeter is fenced and somehow the man entered the perimeter without being detected by security officers.