An crude incendiary device has been discovered on board a Virgin Blue Boeing 737 airliner at Sydney airport.
The device was reported to be a cardboard roll stuffed with explosive and attached to a fireworks sparkler.
Australian Transport Minister John Anderson said it was thought to be a hoax. Virgin Blue said a disgruntled airline worker probably planted it.
It is the latest in a string of security scares for Australian aviation and comes ahead of a general election.
A baggage handler found the device on Monday in the cargo hold of the plane when it landed in Sydney after an internal flight from the state of Queensland. He then breached security procedures by carrying it into the terminal.
The device did not go through baggage screening machines, Virgin Blue said.
“It was clearly placed there by somebody who had access to the airfield,” the airline’s commercial operations chief, David Huttner, said.
He said it would have needed someone to ignite it, and it could not have exploded on its own.
“It was not something that goes boom, it was something that burns, which means somebody had to be there to light it,” he said.
Australian Transport Minister John Anderson said the device could not have caused serious damage to the aircraft.
“I am relatively confident that if this had been a serious nasty, our security arrangements would have picked it up. The judgment was formed that this was a hoax,” he told Australian radio.
Prime Minister John Howard – a staunch ally of the US over Iraq – faces a general election next month in which security is a key issue.
In July, a flight bound for Los Angeles was forced to return to Sydney when flight staff discovered the letters “BOB” – interpreted as possibly meaning “bomb on board” – scrawled on a sick bag in an aircraft toilet
Virgin Blue – a budget airline partly owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin group – began operations in Australia in 2000.
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