Security under Review after Norway Commuter-Flight Axe Attack

OSLO, Norway -- Aviation officials and airlines were scrambling to improve security at small local airports a day after a passenger smuggled an ax aboard a commuter plane and attacked two pilots.

The attacker, a 34-year-old male Algerian asylum seeker, injured the pilots and a passenger in the assault, which put the plane carrying nine people in peril of crashing. Passengers overpowered the man, however, and the pilots regained control about 30 meters (100 feet) above the ground, police said.

The plane landed safely at its destination, Bodoe, about 850 kilometers (530 miles) north of Oslo. The attacker was arrested, and the pilots and passenger were treated for minor head injuries.

"We only had a 10th a second to act," pilot Stein Magne Lian said on national radio after being released from the hospital Thursday. "We were that close to catastrophe."

"The only thought I had in my mind was to land safely," said Lian, 56. "The only thing he wanted then and there was to kill us and himself."

The Algerian, whose application for asylum had been rejected, was able get the ax aboard the Kato Air Dornier 228 airplane because 28 small airports like the one in Narvik, the northern town where he boarded, are not required to have full security checks.

New rules go into force Jan. 1 requiring full checks at all airports, including baggage scans and metal detectors.

Norway's regional and international airports, including Oslo, already have screeners, metal detectors and X-ray scanners.

But the ease in which a deadly weapon was brought aboard the flight Wednesday caused an immediate response from commuter airlines and hectic planning sessions at the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority.

Kato Air, which operated the plane, imposed an immediate ban of all carry-on baggage that had not been cleared or checked.

The main regional carrier, Wideroe, ordered doors to the cockpit of all its planes closed and locked, even on its smallest planes for under 19 passengers. Traditionally, the airline had allowed the smallest planes to fly with open cockpit doors so pilots could monitor the cabin and passengers could watch the flight crew at work.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which set standards for Norwegian airports, was preparing a list of immediate steps for local airports expected to include manual checks of passengers and baggage until new scanning equipment can be installed.

The Salten district court in Bodoe on Thursday ordered the asylum seeker to be held in jail for four weeks pending the police investigation and possible indictments and trial.

In a brief statement, Bodoe police said that, in a preliminary interrogation Thursday, the asylum seeker claimed to have no recollection of the incident. Police refused to release his name, in keeping with Norwegian practice.