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Thu Jun 30 10:34:46 SAST 2016

Chicken or thief at 30 000 ft

Graeme Hosken | 15 January, 2016 00:41
Tlali said during an incident on December 24 a passenger on an inbound flight to South Africa alerted crew to a theft and the suspect was identified, restrained and arrested on landing. File photo
Image by: Sowetan

The infamous "mile-high club" has taken on a more sinister tone.

No longer is it about couples getting it on in the toilet cubicle of an internationally bound aircraft.

The club now involves international theft syndicates placing members onboard as passengers to target fellow travellers.

Cash, jewellery, laptops and cellphones are stolen.

The modus operandi, which has seen several SAA passengers fall victim, involves waiting for passengers to fall asleep or for flight staff to start serving drinks and meals before striking.

While passengers are distracted, the thieves rifle through bags in overhead bins.

In December SAA passenger Warren Becker had R30000 stolen from his carry-on luggage while on a flight to Hong Kong.

It is the third such theft on an SAA commercial liner since last month on flights between Johannesburg and Hong Kong. One incident led to an SAA life ban for one of the suspects involved.

Hong Kong police have also reported an increase in thefts on flights to and from Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post, quoting Hong Kong officials, said in the first six months of last year there were 45 cases of in-flight thefts, with 23 people arrested.

SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said the airline was aware of "three incidents of suspected pilferage and theft on board our aircraft that occurred within three weeks of each other on the route between Johannesburg and Hong Kong".

Tlali said during an incident on December 24 a passenger on an inbound flight to South Africa alerted crew to a theft and the suspect was identified, restrained and arrested on landing.

"The money was recovered, but the victims were not willing to hand it over to police for evidence.

"The suspect was released, deported and blacklisted."

An SAA pilot, while unaware of the thefts, said it took security issues to a different level.

"It is no longer just a situation of having a security person onboard.

" If it continues it could mean that we might have to start installing additional security measures on board such as CCTV cameras."

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