A hapless remark over an old musical drum used in Brahmic rituals forced a pilot to abort a Phuket-bound flight on Sunday afternoon, and could result in a man being sent to jail for five years.
Bangkok Airways flight PG 92, was scheduled to leave Suvarnabhumi Airport for Phuket at 12.30pm, but it was abruptly moved to an empty area after security officials were told by the pilot that a reference to a bomb had been made by a passenger.
The airport's Security Control Centre (SCC) made two thorough searches of the Airbus A-320 before allowing it to leave five and a half hours after its scheduled departure time.
After the incident, four Thai men were taken to Suvarnabhumi airport police station for questioning.
The captain of the plane aborted the take-off at 12.54pm after reports of a conversation among passengers that made a reference to an explosion. The conversation was overheard as passengers were placing their luggage in overhead compartments.
Sirote Duangratana, general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, said the pilot reported the suspicious bomb threat to the SCC which then triggered emergency response procedures.
The pilot then steered the plane with 156 passengers and eight crew members on board to an isolated parking area to allow for an emergency evacuation.
When the passengers and their luggage were taken off the plane the SCC launched a search for suspicious objects.
Explosive ordnance disposal officers, fire fighters, rescue workers and paramedics were sent to the aircraft as part of bomb threat protocol.
When nothing was found, the plane was allowed to leave, and four sheepish Thai men were hauled into Suvarnabhumi Airport police station for questioning.
Senior officer Pol Lt Phurit Sawatrat said the four men were part of a group hired to perform a Brahma ritual and set up a shrine in Phuket on Monday morning.
The unfortunate bomb reference came when Sakda Tangthai, 50, from Bangkok, was about to put a two-ended drum to be used in the ceremony in an overhead compartment after being told to do so by a flight attendant.
One drum skin was in a worn condition, and Mr Sakda’s friend Wichalit Namuangrak, 43, was worried it would get torn inside the compartment. He warned his friend to place it gently in the compartment by saying “Watch out or it will ra-berd”. Ra-berd in Thai means to “explode or burst”.
The attendant heard the remark and rebuked him, saying this “was not a matter to joke about”. She then reported the incident to the captain.
Mr Wichalit told police that after all passengers were on board, the captain announced the plane had a problem which required checking. Then officials came onboard and took him and his companions away for questioning.
Pol Lt Phurit said police had yet to press charges against Mr Wichalit of giving false information causing panic on a parked aircraft under the Aviation Offences Act. He said more people needed to be questioned.
If charged and found guilty, Mr Wichalit is liable for a jail term of up to five years and/or a fine of up to 200,000 baht.
A harsher punishment of 15 years in jail and a half million baht fine could have been hanging over him had the plane been airborne.