Oman


Karachi airport standoff ends, 67 Omanis fly to Bangkok


Karachi :Smoke rises above the Jinnah International Airport where security forces continue to battle militants Monday, June 9, 2014, in Karachi, Pakistan.Photo: AP/PTI

Muscat: Many flights from Oman had to be cancelled on Monday because of the terrorist attack at Karachi airport that began on Sunday.

As  a consequence, hundreds of passengers who were to take connecting flights from Karachi had to change their travel plans.

However, all passengers, including 67 Omanis of the Thai Airways' flight No. TG508 from Muscat, which landed at Karachi airport at 10.50pm on Sunday night, minutes before the terrorist attack began, are completely safe and unhurt.

Though the airport was closed for sometime due to the attack, the plane finally took off at 6pm on Monday with all the passengers as the Karachi airport resumed normal operations.

"TG508 is scheduled to reach Bangkok at 1.30am local time with all Oman passengers on board. All Thai Airways flights to Karachi will now operate as scheduled," said an airline official who called Times of Oman office to confirm the latest news.

Earlier, the dangerous situation at Karachi airport had led to a sleepless night for those concerned about the safety of their passengers from Oman.

Sleepless night
"We haven't slept the whole night but thankfully, all the passengers as well as the crew are safe and waiting to proceed to their homes or onward journey to Bangkok," Joseph Abi Hanna, Thai Sales Manager told Times of Oman on Monday.

"As the flight was unable to depart for Bangkok, 296 passengers, including three Thai nationals, some Asian and Western nationals and 16 flight crew members, were escorted to the highly secure airport lounge. Thai aeroplane remained parked at the airport under high security," according to a Thai Airways statement to Times of Oman.

While the 191 Pakistani passengers were believed to have been allowed to leave after some time, the rest proceeded to Bangkok.

Airport gun battle jolts international passengers
When the Thai Airways' flight No. TG508 landed at Karachi at 10.50pm on Sunday night, none of its 296 passengers onboard knew they were in for a long night at Jinnah International Airport.

Hoping to come out of the flight quickly to meet their families waiting outside or proceed to their onward journey, they were asked to remain inside the airplane and stayed there for the next two hours before being escorted to the transit lounge of the airport under the tight security of Pakistani Army personnel.

Just a few metres away from the gun battle taking place at the old terminal, these passengers could clearly count themselves lucky to have been kept from the harm's way, thanks to the timely and decisive military action by the Pakistani security forces who did not allow the terrorists to enter the new terminal of the main airport, which had so many international and domestic flights arriving and departing. The fact that the terrorists carried dry food items with them gives a clear hint of their intention of prolonged stay and possibly unimaginable damage to life and property.

Other airlines operating to Karachi sector had to cancel their flights on Monday.

"An Oman Air flight, scheduled to depart for Karachi at 8.40am yesterday was cancelled due to the situation at the Karachi airport. Gulf Air and Etihad Airways flights from Muscat via Bahrain and Abu Dhabi respectively were also cancelled," said Ansar Shahzad, Manager Ittfaq Travel and Tourism.

Flights to Lahore
"Many passengers bound for Pakistani cities like Faisalabad and Multan opt for PIA's connecting flights from Karachi. But now we are getting calls from our customers asking direct flights to Lahore instead of Karachi. Some residents of Karachi have postponed their travel plans for a few days," he added.

An Oman Air statement said that all subsequent flights will operate as scheduled.

"Following the cancellation of flight WY 323 from Muscat to Karachi on June 9, Oman Air has announced that all subsequent flights to the destination are expected to operate as scheduled. Oman Air regrets the inconvenience caused to its valued passengers by the earlier cancellation. The airline is closely monitoring events in Karachi and will update passengers if the situation changes," it added.

Pakistani International Airline had no flight scheduled yesterday while Air Blue and Shaheen Air do not operate on Muscat-Karachi sector.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest international and domestic airport with approximately 50,000 passengers using it every day.

It has two runways with the capacity to handle 15 flights per hour and accommodates simultaneous landing and take-off. It's vast parking can accommodate as many as 42 aircraft.

To get in touch with the reporter: shahzad@timesofoman.com

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