Saturday, 5 April 2014

Aviation criminal law: LH passenger takes stewardess as hostage

A 28 year-old man from Kosovo on board a Lufthansa (LH) flight from Munich to Budapest took a stewardess as hostage with the threat of a razor blade on 1 April. The aircraft returned to Munich airport, where the man was convinced to surrender. No serious injuries occurred.

The incident took place a few minutes after the aircraft took off. The man put the stewardess in a headlock and put a 4cm x 1cm razor blade to her throat. Other crewmembers rushed to help and there was a scuffle. Nobody on board was able to understand the man’s demands, expressed in Albanian, so he barricaded himself in the toilet. Shortly before leaving German airspace the pilots decided to return to Munich.

After landing all other persons on board disembarked, but the pilots remained. Police convinced the man to surrender, with the help of a member of the ground personnel, who talked to the man in his native language. Three stewardesses were lightly wounded, one of whom suffered cuts in the hand from the blade.

From a legal view, the aircraft had not abandoned German airspace when it reverted to the Munich airport, so German law would be applicable in any case, according to the territoriality principle. However, when similar incidents occur during the flight in the airspace of more States or above the High Seas, then applicable is usually the law of the State of the aircraft registry. To mitigate conflicts of jurisdiction and avoid jurisdictional gaps, the 1963 Tokyo Convention (TC) obliges States to establish their jurisdiction to aircraft registered in their registry. Moreover, the 1971 Hague Convention obliges States to make punishable the unlawful seizure of aircraft (hi-jacking). Nevertheless, in the case at hand, apart from other criminal acts committed by the Kosovar, it is doubtful whether any attempt of unlawful seizure took place, given that the offender’s demands had not been understood and the pilots decided to return to Munich on their own initiative.

You can find more details on the incident here and here.

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