KOKOPO: A charter airline in Papua New Guinea said armed men hijacked one of its planes on Tuesday and forced the pilot to fly to a remote unused airstrip before they made off with the cargo.

Tropicair said that eight armed men approached the plane as it was refuelling in Gasmata, on the island of New Britain and forced the pilot to take off.

A company spokesman said there were no other passengers on board.

“Upon arrival at the airstrip, the armed men stole the baggage and cargo that was on board the aircraft and fled the area,” Matthew Brutnall said.

“The Captain was not injured during this event and the aircraft was not damaged” and has since been returned to Port Moresby.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary confirmed they are now investigating the incident.

West New Britain Police Commander John Midi said that “police still have no details on the cargo that was stolen and we will rely on the information given by the complainants”.

Gasmata is a remote part of the island’s south coast on a route predominantly used by workers on nearby logging projects.

Midi confirmed the pilot was not injured, but may have been traumatised by threats from the armed assailants.

Crime is widespread in Papua New Guinea and this is not the first time Tropicair has suffered a hijacking.

In 2007, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that security guards escorting a cash shipment forced Tropicair pilots to land at a disused World War II airfield and made off in a dinghy for the mainland.

The pilots had quietly raised the alarm shortly after takeoff and police eventually managed to apprehend four of the armed men and recover the cash. A fifth man was shot dead.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2019

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