'I HAVE A BOMB': 15 minutes of pure terror on MH128
FOR 15 long minutes, 221 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines flight 128 thought they were going to die.
Moments after the packed commercial plane left Melbourne airport bound for Sri Lanka on May 31 last year, Manodh Marks rose from his seat, opened the overhead locker and removed two items.
They were large and black and had blue flashing lights. The 26-year-old from a well-off family in Colombo announced at the top of his lungs that he was holding a bomb and he wanted "to blow the f***ing plane up".
He ran towards cabin crew with his "finger on the power button" and, positioning himself just outside the cockpit door, shouted his message again.
"I have a bomb with me," he said, according to witnesses. "I want to talk to the pilot. Don't come near me. I want to destroy this aircraft."
A passenger confronted him. "Are you f***ing serious?" he asked, before looking closely at the objects and determining there was very real danger.
A flight attendant froze, later admitting a hijack scenario had "never happened to me before" and that he did his best to hide his "panicked face".
"When I saw him run fast, my initial instinct told me something bad was about to happen," he said.
Inside the cockpit the pilot heard "screaming" and his first officer issued a Mayday call before turning the plane around and racing back to Melbourne.
It was a matter of minutes before Marks - who was in a drug-induced psychosis having taken ice on the way to the airport - was tackled by passengers who tied his arms and sat on him.
It was 15 minutes in total that the plane was in the air and another 80 minutes of anxious waiting before police stormed the aircraft and placed Marks under arrest.
On Thursday, Victorian County Court judge Michael McInerney commented on the "traumatic" experience passengers and crew went through. Then he made an example out of Marks.
In a case for which there is no precedent in Australia, Judge McInerney sentenced Marks to 12 years imprisonment. He will serve a minimum of nine years and, after his release, will be deported to Sri Lanka.
Wearing a blue shirt and a grey jumper, the former Melbourne hospitality student said nothing, yawned and nodded when the sentence was handed down.
In sentencing remarks, Judge McInerney acknowledged there was never a threat that the "bomb" - later revealed to be a speaker and a charger - could go off. But he said there was still a serious threat.
He said the pilot was "stressed out" at the worst possible time, during what is known as the "sterile" period where the plane is climbing to 10,000-feet and the pilot is not to be interrupted.
"Making threats is a use of force itself," the judge said. "It's like using a fake gun in a robbery."
On the day of the incident, Marks had been released from a psychiatric facility. It was not his first time receiving treatment for psychosis related to his drug taking.
On the way to the airport, he took the drug ice which doctors said caused him to become delusional and hear loud voices in his head.
His lawyers previously told the court their client genuinely believed the plane was going to crash and that his attempt at a fake hijacking was designed to return the plane to Melbourne.
Forensic psychiatrist, Associate Professor Andrew Carroll, concluded Marks' psychosis was "severe in degree and had an adverse effect on reasoning, judgment and behaviour".
"This delusion is an explanation for extraordinary behaviour," he said in his report.
"He had no prior fascinations, no previous plane predictions … Mr Marks heard screaming voices during a very intense delusion."
Later, Marks said he "felt sorry for passengers and crew".
Police were criticised for their handling of the situation and for taking so long to board the flight after it returned to Melbourne.
Marks will not be eligible for parole until 2027.