Australia: Misread soda can leads to bomb scare aboard Air Mauritius flight

The departures board displays flights from Melbourne Airport on October 31, 2011.


Scott Barbour

It seemed serious enough. An Air Mauritius passenger jet with nearly 200 people on board made an emergency landing at an airport in Melbourne, Australia with a suspected bomb on board.

However, without going into details, Australian police said the whole emergency was, in fact, a misinterpretation of foreign lettering on a can of soda, the Fairfax media reported.

Apparently, airline staff discovered the can of drink at the rear of the Airbus 340 and interpreted the wording on the can to say "bomb" when, in fact, it didn't.

It was enough to cause the turnaround of flight MK943 to Mauritius about an hour after takeoff from the southern Australian city and trigger a full-scale alarm at the airport, the Herald Sun reported.

Emergency crews reportedly rushed to the aircraft as passengers were ferried off, interviewed by police and given overnight accommodation in Melbourne hotels.

Police and security agencies then searched the plane and baggage.

Conflicting reports in the Australian media, meantime, included that a passenger — later detained — had made a bomb threat, and that the word "bomb" had been scrawled on paper attached to the soda, sparking the emergency.

However, the Australian Associated Press quoted Victorian police spokeswoman Kendra Jackson as saying: "It has been determined that no offense has been detected due to an initial misinterpretation of foreign lettering on the print of the can."

Police would not specify which brand of drink was involved or what language it was in.

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In an earlier statement, police said an Arson and Explosives Squad investigation found the can was not an explosive device.

Baggage on board the flight was also removed and screened.

Air Mauritius' Australia manager, Steven Palombo, said the direct Melbourne-Mauritius flight had been rescheduled for 11:30 a.m. (AEST) Thursday.

He backed the pilot's decision to return to Melbourne when the can was discovered, telling AAP: "I think safety is number one and I think the captain absolutely did the right thing."

Police said the captain of the aircraft acted appropriately.

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