Indian Airlines Flight 814 Hijacked - [December 24, 1999] This Day in History

On 24 December 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC 814) was hijacked by militants from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The hostages taken as a result were only released after the Indian government  agreed to release the jailed terrorists as demanded by the militant group. This would lead to serious consequences in the years to come.

This article will give further details of the IC 814 hijacking within the context of the IAS Exam.

Events during Hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814

  • The flight was traveling from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on that day.
  • There were 176 passengers and 15 crew members on the flight.
  • The aeroplane was an Indian Airlines Airbus A300 and it was piloted by Captain Devi Sharan. The chief flight attendant was Anil Sharma.
  • At about 5:30 PM, when the flight entered Indian airspace, the hijacking commenced. The hijackers forced the pilot to divert over Lucknow and then head to Lahore. But since there was insufficient fuel, the plane had to land at Amritsar for refuelling as per Captain Sharan.
  • This was a good opportunity for Indian authorities to take control of the flight from the terrorists but nothing materialised. Indecision and a lack of communication between Delhi and Amritsar ensured that the aeroplane left Amritsar without refuelling. The Crisis Management Group in Delhi had asked the Amritsar airport authorities to immobilise the aeroplane. Punjab Police’s armed personnel were ready to attack the flight but did not get approval from Delhi. Hijackers’ suspicions led to the flight taking off without refuelling.
  • The flight made an emergency landing at Lahore, Pakistan due to very low fuel levels. Although Pakistani authorities had initially denied permission for the flight to land on its soil and even switched off all the lights at the Lahore airport, it had to finally agree for the landing when it was understood that the plane would have to crash land. Refuelling was done and the flight took off from Lahore at 10:32 PM. Pakistan denied the pilot’s request to offload a few women and children passengers.
  • After that, the flight landed at the Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai. Here, 27 passengers were freed. The Indian government had requested UAE authorities for permission to carry out a commando operation to end the crisis with Indian military men, but the request was turned down.
  • Finally, the aircraft landed in Kandahar in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was then ruled by the Taliban and this complicated matters since the Indian government had not recognised the Taliban as a legitimate government.
  • Taliban authorities agreed to act as negotiators between the Indian government and the hijackers. The flight was surrounded by Taliban gunmen ostensibly to deter the hijackers from killing hostages, but their intentions have been questioned. It was probably to prevent an Indian military attack on the hijackers.
  • Since there was no Indian high commission in Afghanistan at that time, an official from the High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan was sent to Kandahar.
  • India sent a team for negotiations headed by Vivek Katju.
  • The demands of the terrorists were the release of three militants held captive in India viz. Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. They also demanded money first. Surprisingly, the Taliban convinced the hijackers to drop that demand.
  • Running out of options and time, the Indian government agreed to release these three men and sent them to Kandahar with the then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.
  • The hostages were released after the three terrorists were handed over to the hijackers.

Aftermath of the IC 814 Hijacking

  • The hijackers had killed one Indian passenger, 25-year old Rupan Katyal.
  • Maulana Masood Azhar went on to found the Jaish-e-Muhammed in 2000 and was responsible for the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.
  • Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh went on to abduct and execute American journalist Daniel Pearl. He is also alleged to have had a prominent role in the 9/11 attacks in the USA. He was arrested in 2002 by Pakistani authorities and was sentenced to death but his sentence has been delayed. He has been in prison in Karachi since then.
  • Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar has been training militants in POK since his release.
  • This hijacking case was investigated by the CBI and they have arrested a few people in connection with the case.
  • The hijacking is a painful memory for India for more than one reason. Lessons were learnt about crisis management, handling hostage situations and maintaining superlative security in airports and elsewhere from this unfortunate incident.

Also on this day

1524: Death of Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India via sea route. His discovery of the sea route to India paved the way for colonialism and imperialism in Asia. His ship landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. This is considered a breakthrough moment in world history.

1973: Death of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, leader of the Self-Respect Movement and the Dravidar Kazhagam.

1987: Death of M. G. Ramachandran, popularly known as “MGR”, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

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