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Turkish Pilot Told Hijacker Istanbul
 Was Sochi

Turkish officials say a pilot tricked a Ukrainian hijacker who ordered an Istanbul-bound passenger plane to fly to Sochi as the Winter Olympics were opening on February 7.

Sabhia Gokcen, Istanbul, Turkey

Initial reports said it was a Turkish F-16 jet fighter that had forced the Turkish Pegasus Airlines flight out of Kharkiv, Ukraine to land in Istanbul.

But Istanbul's Mayor Huseyin Avni Mutlu later credited the pilot with fooling 45-year-old Artem Hozlov into thinking that Istanbul was Sochi.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Hozlov is a Ukrainian citizen.

The head of the Ukrainian Security Investigation department, Maksym Lenko said on February 8 that Hozlov, who appeared intoxicated, told the aircrew he had smuggled a bomb onto the plane. He then lunged toward the pilot's cabin with what appeared to be a detonator in his hand.

"After about an hour after the plane took off, the passenger broke into the cockpit demanding the plane change its course to Sochi where, as he said there are 'Yanukovych and Putin who have blood on their hands,'" Llenko said. "Then he demanded and I quote: 'to free all prisoners in Ukraine.'"

Hozlov then allegedly ordered the flight to head for Russia's Black Sea port of Sochi on the day of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics

According to Lenko, the would-be hijacker was finally calmed down by the crew.

"In case his demands are not met the passenger threatened to blow up the plane with an explosive devise he said he had." Lenko said. "The crew managed to calm down the passenger by making a false maneuver of the plane."

Hozlov was detained at the Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport after the plane landed.

During a four-hour standoff, he agreed to release the other 109 passengers.

The Turkish security forces who seized Hozlov on the plane snuck aboard as the released passengers were leaving the aircraft.

Turkish police say a search revealed there was no bomb on the plane.

Hozlov's failed attempt to divert the plane to Sochi came amid tightened security by Russian forces around the Winter Olympics, as well as tightened regional security offered to Moscow by the United States and its NATO allies.

Turkish military officials say two Turkish F-16 fighter planes had been scrambled to escort the aircraft to its original destination of Istanbul while the pilot and crew continued their ruse.

Istanbul's Mayor Mutlu said Hozlov only realized the plane had landed in Turkey's largest city, rather than the Russian Black Sea port of Sochi, after it already was on the ground at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport.

On February 8, Ukraine launched a terror probe into the incident.

"We have launched an investigation into an attempt to commit an act of terror and an attempt to hijack a plane," Lenko told reporters in Kyiv.

(Source: www.rferl.org )

Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. 

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