India really missed its Sky Marshals on Air India (IC-814), Kathmandu-Delhi Flight, hijacked in 1999. Now, with increasing hijacking threats, India has decided to increase the number of air marshals on flights to Kathmandu (Nepal) and Kabul (Afghanistan), especially from Delhi. This step was initiated after Indian intelligence agencies received a tip-off on a possible hijacking attempt.
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As per reports in Indian Media, sky marshals or the elite commandos are handpicked from the National Security Guard (NSG). They are deployed on flights in plainclothes. These commandos are specially trained to deal in hijack and hostage situations.
As per reports, the number and frequency of sky marshals on flights bound for Kabul in Afghanistan and Kathmandu in Nepal have been propelled. The number of sky marshals per flight ranges from two to six, depending upon the threat perception.
“Commandos are mostly deployed on high-risk international flights to and/or from sensitive areas. Seldom, they are deputed on domestic flights as well, following specific inputs. In a hijack situation, sky marshals are the only line of defence between passengers and hijackers. Their seating arrangement in a flight is strategic,” and they are equipped with pistols and guns with rubber bullets to neutralise the offenders without damaging the aircraft. They also carry tasers, handcuffs, etc.
A pilot from a budget domestic airlines said the identity of a sky marshal is kept absolute secret. No one is aware of their presence on an aircraft, not even the airline officials. “It is at the last moment that the crew is informed of their presence. We know their seat numbers and how many of them are travelling. Nothing more is disclosed to us,” the pilot added.
24th December 1999: Air India Flight Hijacked
India started flying sky marshals after an Indian Airlines aircraft on way to Delhi from Kathmandu was hijacked by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based terror group, on December 24, 1999. The aircraft was hijacked by gunmen shortly after it entered Indian airspace at about 17:30 IST.
After touching down in Amritsar, Lahore, and Dubai, the hijackers finally forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which at the time was controlled by the Taliban. Ajit Doval, the RAW chief, who led the four-member negotiating team to Kandahar, described the whole incident as a “diplomatic failure” of the government in their inability to make the US and UAE use their influence to help secure a quick release of the passengers.