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Australia Faces Another Airline Security Scare - 2003-06-05

Australian authorities have arrested a man on a domestic passenger flight after he was overheard making threats. It is Australia's second airline security scare in a week.

The plane was taxing onto the runway Thursday in the Melbourne when passengers say they overheard a man make the threat to hijack the flight bound for Brisbane.

"Sitting in aisle one, which was the seat closest to the cockpit, when this all happened so I really had a bird's eye view of the prelude," recalled passenger Eric Thain, who was sitting near the man when the hijacking threats were made. "What alerted them was just verbal abuse rather than physical."

The crew of the Virgin Blue plane abandoned the flight and taxied back where security guards arrested the passenger. He was unarmed but was being interrogated by police.

It is the second security incident in Australia in a week.

Late last week, a passenger, armed with sharpened wooden stakes, stormed the cockpit of a Qantas flight between Melbourne and Tasmania. Detectives say only the heroism of two flight attendants prevented a major tragedy.

The suspect, 40-year-old David Mark Robinson, has been charged with attempted hijacking and assaulting a crew member. He goes on trial in August and faces a possible life sentence.

In the light of recent events, Australia's Parliament has set up an inquiry into aviation security.

It is part of a wide-ranging review of Australia's domestic security arrangements, ordered after the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. That review was given greater urgency after the terrorist bombings on the Indonesian Island of Bali last October, in which almost 90 Australians were killed.