Etihad flight diverted to Jakarta after 'disruptions'

A dozen passengers have been detained by Abu Dhabi security authorities, after multiple fires were lit on board a flight that left Melbourne on Monday night.

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On Wednesday night a spokesman for Etihad Airways said no arrests had been made but that the airline was co-operating fully with the investigation.

The flight was forced to make an emergency landing at Jakarta airport, before arriving four hours late at Abu Dhabi airport, where police were alerted and began searching passengers.

The aircraft was also searched the Etihad spokesman said it was released shortly after arrival at Abu Dhabi.

According to passengers who contacted Fairfax Media, multiple fires were lit in the aircraft’s toilets.

The series of small fires filled the cabin with smoke, sending passengers into a panic and setting off the smoke alarms.

The boyfriend of one passenger on board told Fairfax Media the plane was only able to stay in Jakarta for a few hours.

Against many passenger’s wishes, the flight then continued to Abu Dhabi.

However a few hours into the second leg of the flight, smoke was again detected coming from bathrooms.

The cabin crew then locked down all toilets and confined passengers to their seats.

Meal and drink services also stopped. Sarah Jeffery, a passenger on the flight, told Fairfax Media the experience was ‘‘very frightening’’.

She said she awoke suddenly to the sounds of a ‘‘loud alarm, a flashing red light and rushing crew members’’.

‘‘I looked and saw flames coming from the bin in the toilet, and two cabin crew members put it out,’’ she said.

‘‘It was very smoky, and it felt like the aircraft had filled with smoke.’’

Ms Jeffery said when the plane landed in Jakarta, passengers were evacuated and their bags searched before the flight resumed.

While the plane was flying above the Indian Ocean, she said another fire was ignited while crew members were preparing breakfast.

The staff – which Ms Jeffery said were ‘‘very vigilant’’ during the flight – quickly extinguished the blaze.

‘‘At this point, we were all asked to remain seated, and the toilets couldn’t be used,’’ she said.

‘‘Breakfast was not served, which also meant we had only had one drink and a muffin in over 12 hours.’’

‘‘I was very frightened that we had two more hours before reaching Abu Dhabi, and I actually sent messages to my boyfriend and son telling them how much I loved them, in the hope that if anything happened they would receive them.’’

Reports have emerged that a female passenger is being investigated.

Norwegian professional golfer Caroline Martens, who was flying home from competing in the Australian Masters golf tournament, told Norwegian radio and television public broadcasting company NKR that a fire was started on board ‘‘directly while we were above the sea’’.

‘‘After a few hours I noticed that it smelled like smoke ... but I thought everything was fine and just fell asleep,’’ she said.

‘‘About two hours after I woke up as the fire alarm went off again.’’

Ms Martens, 27, said there was a fire in one of the toilets and smoke billowing out of another.

After the plane landed in Jakarta, the golfer said all passengers and crew were searched by local police, but no culprit was found.

‘‘Thus we were all sent on a plane again without knowing who had done it. It is just not nice to know that someone will set fire to the aircraft you will be travelling with,’’ Martens said.

‘‘I’m just very happy to be on the ground again.’’

Another passenger, Dale Henderson, described how he the fire alarm went off in one of the middle toilets when what is believed to be a cigarette was thrown into a toilet waste bin.

He said a second fire started in the rear toilets and "this time it was a goer, flames and all."

He said the staff were quick to extinguish the flames.

He described how tense the situation was on the aircraft, and how they could not believe someone on board would be putting them in such danger.

Mr Henderson said that the flight personnel did a "fantastic job with the very bad situation" and "without their expertise and professionalism we wouldn’t be here".

Other passengers on flight EY461 have taken to social media to report a series of fires being lit during the flight, with some claiming to be ‘‘lucky’’ to have arrived safely.

One Instagram user wrote: ‘‘Try having someone set the plane on fire, in two different places, having to emergency land in Jakarta, get back on after hours of investigations, for the IDIOT to set three more fires in three more toilets while mid-air and nowhere to land!!!!!’’

Another person claiming to have been on flight EY461 took her grievances to Twitter, complaining that Etihad Airways did not ‘‘feed customers for almost 15 hours’’ on the flight.

Fairfax Media has translated Ms Martens' quotes from Norwegian.

with Bridie Smith

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