NEW YORK — Pakistani officials were responsible for the security failure that allowed gunmen disguised as security guards to seize a Pan Am jet at the Karachi airport, an official of the airline said Friday.
"There was no failure of the Pan Am security system. There was no failure of the passenger check-in security system," said Martin R. Shugrue, vice chairman and chief operating officer for Pan American World Airways.
"The failure here was the failure of the airport security system; the airport perimeter was penetrated by these terrorists," Shugrue told a news conference. "The responsibility for guarding the airport perimeter was with the airport authority and the local government."
The hijacking ended when commandos stormed the plane.
Shugrue said the terrorists "disguised as airport security personnel, penetrated the airport perimeter by driving a security police van, or a vehicle designed to resemble a police van over the airport ramp and up to the aircraft."
No Specific Warning
Shugrue said there had been no specific warning of the attack. However, he said, "there was a generally increased level of alert throughout the system over the past week or 10 days or so based upon intelligence advice given to us by the Federal Aviation Administration."
That was in a bulletin the FAA sent to all airlines, he said.
The terrorists stormed the Boeing 747 as passengers were boarding. About 364 passengers, 13 flight attendants and 7 Pan Am ground employees were on board the plane. Shugrue said 44 Americans were on the plane.
Soon after the terrorists boarded the plane, the three-member cockpit crew escaped via a hatch on the roof of the jet, "as per long-established Pam Am and industry procedures under circumstances of the nature," Shugrue said. "This insured that the aircraft could not be operated."
Later he said standard operating procedure for air crews is to immobilize the airplane any way they can, including leaving.
Seventeen hours into the ordeal, an auxiliary power unit providing lights and radio communication for the plane failed. Spotlights outside also failed, Shugrue said, adding that neither was planned.
He said that when darkness hit, the hijackers, fearing an attack, herded the hostages to the center of the aircraft. Flight attendants suddenly opened exit doors and inflated evacuation slides, "beginning a swift exit from the aircraft in the dark, amid gunfire and grenades thrown by the hijackers."
Airport security forces then attacked the aircraft, killing two hijackers and capturing the others while freeing the remaining hostages, he said.
One of the people killed in the shoot-out that ended the siege was a Pan Am mechanic based in Pakistan who had maintained radio contact between the hijackers and authorities throughout the incident, Shugrue said.
Pan Am airline security in the airport was one of the strictest worldwide, Shugrue said.
However, Pan Am officials had said earlier that a new Pan Am security system, installed at American airports two months ago, is not in use in Pakistan.
According to Pamela Hanlon, a spokesman at the airline's headquarters, "government personnel handled security for us."
Only at U.S. Airports
The new program, called Alert, is in use only at American airports in part because making security arrangements in other countries is a delicate issue, she said.