Police have revealed the man accused of threatening a flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday night was on a student visa and had just been released from psychiatric care.
The man who allegedly tried to break into the cockpit of a Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur flight mid-air and threatened to blow up the plane was a Sri Lankan national who’d just been released from psychiatric care that day, police say.
The 25-year-old is being interviewed by police and could face at least 10 years in jail for a series of offences including making threats and false statements and endangering safety of aircraft.
He is due to face court on Thursday.
Just after the late-night flight took off on Wednesday, the man allegedly held a Bluetooth-type speaker in a plastic bag and tried to enter the cockpit.
“Comments were made by the offender about blowing the plane up,” Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.
Flight attendants tried to stop him and another passenger tried to intervene. He then walked away and was subdued by other passengers before the flight returned to Melbourne.
Mr Ashton said the man is a Sri Lankan national in Australia on a student visa, living in Dandenong and studying a hospitality course.
He had been released from psychiatric care from the Monash Medical Centre on Wednesday.
“And from there, we believe he has purchased a ticket on this plane having been released from that facility,” Mr Ashton said.
Commissioner Ashton said there were no restrictions on people who’d just been discharged from mental health facilities from travelling on a plane.
“Yeah, absolutely, if you've got out of... discharged from a facility you could go and buy a ticket overseas and fly overseas that day,” he said.
Police also defended why it took 90 minutes to get passengers off the plane, saying it had to take into account the possibility of there being more offenders and multiple devices.
“But (we) certainly appreciate, when you are on a plane in that situation, one minute can seem like an hour,” Commissioner Ashton said.
The incident was initially treated as a terror incident but later reviewed as a mental health issue.
Malaysia Airlines stressed that at no point was the aircraft hijacked.
“Safety and security are of utmost priority to Malaysia Airlines,” it said in a statement.
“The airline wishes to apologise for the inconvenience caused. Passengers have safely disembarked the aircraft and will be screened by Australian authorities.”