'Panic attack' sparked Virgin incident

The man who sparked a hijack scare on a Virgin Australia flight to Bali on Friday has claimed an in-flight panic attack prompted him to bang on the door of the cockpit, which he thought was the toilet.

Matt Lockley, 28, of Queensland was released by Indonesian authorities  late on Sunday and will be flown back to Australia on Monday afternoon.

Because it was an Australian flight, it’s now up to Australian authorities to decide whether to charge Mr Lockley or take any other action.

In a statement to the media late on Sunday, Mr Lockley said, “This has been a huge misunderstanding.

“I had a panic attack and I just wanted to use the toilet and I made an accident [sic] by knocking on the cockpit door.”

Mr Lockley thanked the Indonesian police and authorities.

“They’ve only followed procedure and they’ve provided me with a lot of care and support and I’m very grateful for everything they have done,” he said.

One investigator said that, on the flight, Mr Lockley had been “under the delusion that the lady sitting next to him had tried to smuggle illegal drugs into his bag while he was asleep”.

After he had banged on the cockpit door, he had been asked to sit down by one of the business class passengers, and he immediately sat. But the crew restrained him because of he had already been involved in other disturbances during the flight.

Mr Lockley spent Friday and Saturday in the Bali police hospital, where doctor Jaowenny Lolo said he was dizzy and had been vomiting.

Late on Sunday night, Mr Lockley was handed over to Australian consular officials and taken away.

Indonesian Transport Ministry spokesman Rudi Richardo said Mr Lockley would return on Virgin Australia’s flight to Brisbane at 3pm Bali time (5pm AEST) on Monday.

Mr Richardo said Mr Lockley would have been required to return to Australia to answer questions from investigators “no matter what” and that, after that was explained to him, he had agreed to return voluntarily.

Virgin Australia has refused to explain publicly why the pilot, Neil Cooper, activated a hijack alert in response to Mr Lockley’s behaviour.

Virgin has confirmed that the pilot or copilot of the flight activated a 7500 alert code – which, in international aviation terms, signifies a hijack – but did not deactivate the alert during the remaining 45 minutes in the air when it became clear it was not a hijack situation.

Airline sources have defended the pilot's action, saying it was "as per training" and it was not within the pilots' power to change the activation code. They have instead pointed the finger at Bali air traffic control.

Indonesian officials have questioned the pilot, copilot, cabin crew, air traffic controller and aviation security personnel on duty on flight VA41. An investigator said the results would be relayed to Australian authorities.

The alert triggered a full military response at Bali airport, shutting it down for almost an hour at its busiest time on Friday afternoon.

The incident affected 139 passengers and directly caused delays to 13 flights trying to land at, or fly out of, Bali airport.

Indonesian aviation consultant Gerry Soejatman, who was at Bali airport at the time, said tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people might have had plans disrupted as delays flowed through Indonesia’s clogged aviation system to Jakarta airport and beyond.

Mr Lockley has insisted he was not drunk, but said he had taken some Panadol and anti-inflammatory drugs, and two drinks of Coke at Brisbane airport before boarding the flight. 

This article 'Panic attack' sparked Virgin incident was originally published in Brisbane Times.