Air-hijack 'joker' not guilty

Johannesburg entrepreneur Mncedisi Eric Maluleka, who joked on board a kulula.com flight about hijacking the aircraft, was found not guilty on Tuesday of jeopardising the safety of an aircraft and its passengers in flight.

He appeared in the Bellville Regional Court, before magistrate Clive Linden, who agreed with defence counsel Hugo Rossouw that Maluleka had merely made a joke to the flight crew, and had at no stage intended to jeopardise the safety of the aircraft, passengers and crew.

Linden said Maluleka had been on the plane with a friend, on their way from Cape Town to Johannesburg in October last year.

As the crew checked the passengers prior to take-off, air hostess Marni Reschmuller had asked an obese Maluleka if he needed his seat belt extended, and Maluleka had jokingly replied that he preferred his seat extended.

Linden said Maluleka’s joke about his seat had contributed to the pleasant, relaxed atmosphere on the aircraft.

Linden added: “Just after this joke about his seat, Maluleka had joked to senior flight attendant Paul Dlamini that he and his friend, seated with him, planned to hijack the aircraft.”

The magistrate said the flight crew was aware that the remark was a mere joke, but Dlamini had nevertheless warned Maluleka that he could land in serious trouble for the joke.

Linden said kulula.com policy demanded that the flight commander be informed of such incidents, and the flight crew decided to wait until the aircraft was at a height of 15 000 feet.

He said Dlamini had not informed the commander prior to take-off, as he and his colleagues had considered the remark a joke, and not a threat to the safety of the aircraft.

When the commander was eventually informed, he decided to return to Cape Town to deal with the problem on the safety of the ground.

Linden added: “What is important is that everyone understood Maluleka’s remark as a joke, and no one took it seriously. As far as the crew were concerned, the flight could have continued to Johannesburg, and did not have to return to Cape Town.”—Sapa

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