This story originally appeared on VICE Asia.
On Tuesday, March 26th, the pilot of Singapore Airlines flight SQ423 told passengers there was a bomb on board. After being escorted by military jets, the plane landed safely at Changi Airport. Roughly 30 minutes before landing, passengers on board were notified about the threat. A scan of the plane showed that no suspicious items were on board.
A Singapore Airlines spokesperson told VICE: “Singapore Airlines confirms there was a bomb threat concerning SQ423 operating from Mumbai to Singapore. The aircraft arrived in Singapore on March 26, 2019 at about 0800hrs (local time). There were 263 passengers on board. We are assisting the authorities with their investigations and regret that we are unable to provide further details.”
VICE spoke to Vijay Singh, a passenger on board SQ423 to find out exactly what went down on board. Vijay is a staff member at VICE Asia.
I was on a red-eye flight from Mumbai to Singapore, on Monday evening, March 25. I was fast asleep and suddenly woken up when the crew started switching on the lights, asking us to pull our seats back up. By the time they made the second announcement, I was fully awake. They said: "Ladies and gentlemen, there might be a bomb on the plane. We think this might be a hoax but we are still investigating. We have F-16s that will escort us back to the airport."
All of a sudden, an F-16 fighter jet flew by our window. Then another. Right after the announcement, everyone sat up and started chatting with each other. There was a lot of tension in the air, lots of furrowed brows, frowns, nervous gestures and a general sense of confusion and uncertainty. Some pulled out their phones and filmed the F-16s that were just outside.
They didn't make me feel any more reassured though. The sight of a military jet only confirmed the situation was escalating, so I couldn’t bring myself to film the situation. What if these were my final moments?
Staring at the jet, I asked myself what they would do if there really was a bomb on the plane. Would they shoot us down to protect Singapore? Why military planes? Why F-16s? How could they help?
I started to wonder, "Am I going to make it out of this dead or alive?" It was like being in a movie scene, the way everything was going. People were chattering nervously. The crew tried to keep their cool but you could see the worry in their eyes. I was thinking, “Who is going to take care of my kids if something happens to this plane?” The potential of death was staring me right in the eye.
There was a small girl behind me, and she was asking her mother: "Mum, are we going to be ok? Are we going to reach Changi?"
For most people, it was hard to deal with being in a confined space and being told there was a bomb there. There was no escape. Nowhere to run. All anyone could do was sit there and hope on the inside while pretending everything was fine on the outside. Family members were talking to each other with a tone of panic. Everyone was looking out the windows. The jets were really close.
There was no screaming or shouting, but you could tell people were. You can imagine the thoughts going through people's heads. There were couples, parents with their kids, groups of friends. It was a tough psychological battle for everyone.
The girl behind me kept asking her mum why there were military jets outside, and her mum was trying to reassure her that everything was fine. In front of me, there was a teenage guy with his dad. They were talking about whether they heard the announcement correctly. They were doubting what they heard. The boy was reassuring his dad that the announcement said it was likely a hoax and that there was no bomb.
The pilot didn't make any other announcement which was strange. When it comes to weather issues, you get pilots who will check in and give updates every 10 minutes. In this case, it was a bomb threat and we were told only once, without any updates. This didn’t help calm the nerves either.
The jets disappeared as soon as we were above Changi, and we landed safely. It was a huge relief to finally hit solid ground. But we weren’t allowed to get off straight away. Knowing we had landed safely, people started to release their tension. Men were raising their voices at the airline crew, asking to be let off because they were scared to miss their connecting flight. We had to go through an additional security check when we disembarked, but nothing more was said about it. I went home, happy to see my family.
Now that I am talking about this, it has been about a week and my fear has turned into confusion and frustration. No one is talking about it and Singapore Airlines has not reached out to any of the passengers. I mean, they only told me I might have died on their plane. No big deal.
I wonder, why was the announcement even made? It's weird to tell people there might be a bomb on their plane when you aren’t sure if it’s true. What warrants an announcement? Why freak someone out? Or is it better for passengers to know of the possibility?
Later, news reports said that soon after the flight took off, someone called in saying there was a bomb on the plane. But they didn’t make the announcement until about half an hour before the plane landed, which also doesn’t make sense. If the threat was remotely real, shouldn’t there have been an emergency landing?
And what about the child and a woman from the flight who were reportedly held for questioning. Who are they? Where are they? Why would they be connected?
One week after the incident, I’m grateful to be alive but still waiting on answers.