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Motive Unknown In Qantas Attack

A would-be hijacker armed with wooden stakes stabbed two flight attendants as he tried to break into the cockpit of an Australian jetliner Thursday, apparently in an attempt to crash the plane, the government said.

Cabin crew and passengers on the domestic flight carrying 53 people overpowered and disarmed the man.

Prime Minister John Howard said Friday that the Sept. 11 attacks had emboldened the travelers. "It does indicate that we have changed ... People do react now."

David Mark Robinson of Melbourne was charged Friday with hijacking and committing violence against a crew member. The hijacking charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Robinson, 40-year-old unemployed computer analyst, did not request bail in Melbourne Magistrates Court and was not required to enter a plea. He was ordered to reappear August 8.

Authorities said they believe the assailant was trying to take control of the Qantas flight but that they didn't believe the attack was terrorism. Transport Minister John Anderson described the attacker as "less than stable."

The attack, one of the worst in Australian aviation history, happened about 10 minutes after the Qantas flight took off from Melbourne for Launceston in the island state of Tasmania.

Passenger Keith Charlton said he was seated in the third row when a man in a "brown suit raced past me with his hands raised in the air" as he began the attack.

Witnesses said a group of six attendants and passengers led by 38-year-old attendant Greg Kahn subdued the assailant before the plane returned to land safely in Melbourne, where Robinson was taken into custody.

"The guy was stabbing him, there was blood going everywhere, but the purser (Khan) wouldn't let go, he kept fighting him back," Charlton, 59, was quoted as telling the Sydney Morning Herald.

Kahn and one other flight attendant were hospitalized with stab wounds, and two passengers suffered light injuries.

Australia, a close ally of the United States, is currently on a heightened level of terror alert in the aftermath of the Iraq war, in which it took part with American forces.

Anderson said the suspect seemed intent on trying to crash the plane.

He shouted threats as he attempted to storm the locked cockpit, authorities said. Anderson said there were no sky marshals on board.

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said the attacker, armed with two 6-inch stakes, emerged from the seventh row and tried to pass some cabin crew members on his way to the cockpit shouting threats. He stabbed them as they tried to push him back toward the rear of the plane, authorities said.

"He never got to the cockpit," Dixon said. He said the door was of standard design, and not a reinforced security model. However, it was locked during the flight.

The transport minister said the wooden weapons had gone through security checks unnoticed, calling the oversight a "lesson about unforeseen tools being used."

"We'll leave no stone unturned; plainly we don't want to see a repeat of this," Anderson said.

Passengers praised Kahn for battling with the attacker after he was stabbed in the back of his head.

"The steward had a lot of blood on the back of his neck. He was good, very good, very brave," passenger Joe Da Costa said. "The steward tried to confront (the man) and that's why he got stabbed."

By Jamie Tarabay

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