Security, immigration and customs officers at Shanghai Airport stood by and watched as a mob of angry passengers assaulted an Australian Jetstar pilot and crew they had surrounded and held hostage, after their plane was diverted due to bad weather.
In what one passenger described as unbelievable scenes, no-one came to the aid of the pilot who was bailed up against a wall and being physically restrained by the passengers.
Alastair Johnson, who was on the flight, said he tried to intervene to stop the mob assaulting the pilot. But when he asked the nearby officials to call the police they told him to call the police himself.
The A330-200 flight which originated in Melbourne and picked up passengers in Singapore was flying Australian, US and Chinese nationals to Beijing on Friday.
Mr Johnson, a product manager for the telco supplier, Alcatel-Lucent, was on his way to a conference in Beijing when fog forced the plane to divert and land at Shanghai's Pudong Airport.
He said the plane landed early in the morning and the passengers remained on board for a couple of hours while it was decided what action to take.
He said the situation was testy but calm on board with Jetstar crew keeping everyone up to date on developments, but the situation soon escalated once they got off.
Mr Johnson said they headed into the terminal and Jetstar staff divided the passengers into groups, those who had to get to Beijing urgently, those who could wait until the Jetstar pilot and crew, who were over their legal flying hours limit, could continue to fly the plane and those who wanted to return to Singapore.
But that was when things really started to go wrong and the passengers became "extremely obnoxious". He said the ground crew were extremely passive and patient.
At one stage, Mr Johnson said that 150 passengers were shouting at one crew member who was just taking it.
"Then suddenly a bunch of people ran away so I went to see where they went," Mr Johnson told Fairfax.
"They had seen the captain and the flight crew who were trying to get their bags and leave.
"They had them bailed up against a wall with a semi-circle of people around them."
The captain, first officer and cabin crew were in the semi-circle.
"The captain was being assaulted. They were preventing him from leaving, physically restraining him and trying to take his bags away."
Mr Johnson said the captain was very calm and kept saying to them "these actions are not going to help".
All the while the uproar was being ignored by airport officials. He said not a single one came to help or called police despite Mr Johnson asking them to.
"For the crew I think it was pretty scary. But the captain remained calm, even though he wasn't happy about it - about being physically handled.
The vice-president of The Australian and International Pilots Association, Richard Woodward, said he was very concerned about the situation and revealed there have been other incidents in which pilots and crew had been assaulted.
He said the captain should never be exposed to any violence because if they are injured, the person most able to fly the plane may be lost.
Mr Woodward, who is a Qantas A380 captain, said the pilot and crew are taught to remain calm in difficult situations and work things through.
"They are taught how to deal with clashes of verbal judo,’’ said Mr Woodward.
"But we are not kung fu experts. We are reliant on others around to protect them.
"The civil aviation community is reliant on the legal action of other countries. There have been incidents where they have been assaulted but the other country has refused to take action. However, we can only protest. It is up to the company to take things further if they can."
- Sydney Morning Herald