A Thai airport has suspended one of its workers after a traveler smuggled more than 30 live animals, including two baby otters, onto a flight to Taiwan.
The mobile collection, which also included 28 baby turtles and a groundhog, was seized when the Thai Vietjet flight landed at Taipei’s Taoyuan airport on Wednesday.
Local media reported that the unusual cargo came to light when several of the animals escaped and were found crawling around the plane’s cabin.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport said the animals failed screening due to human error.
“We have examined the security cameras and discovered that the smugglers were two foreigners who had their luggage scanned with an X-ray machine,” the airport said in a statement issued late Thursday.
‘One member of staff was suspicious so another was assigned to open the luggage. However, they did not check the luggage and let the passengers pass.’
Shocking video showed the moment a smuggled otter and rat sparked panic after they fled freely on the flight: the rat savagely bit the hand of one of the crew members.
A frightened passenger can be seen trying to avoid the otter as it moves along the ground. The otter rolls on the carpet before being caught by the cabin crew
The 30 cm long otter that caused chaos in flight
Taiwanese authorities said they were investigating the suspected smugglers.
Thailand is a major transit hub for wildlife smugglers who often sell the animals to China and Vietnam.
Alarmed passengers noticed a giant albino rat with glowing red eyes as they walked to the toilet on the Airbus A320 flying to Taiwan.
Nervous flight attendants searched the plane and noticed a second wild creature: a foot-long otter under a seat.
Footage shows the otter rolling on the floor next to one of the seats before crew members frantically tried to resolve the situation, with passengers huddled in their seats as they watched the chaos unfold.
The crew can be seen tying up a black bag that appears to have at least one of the animals inside.
The otter is then shown moving around in a container at the Taiwan airport before being transported.
Surprisingly, a box with 28 live turtles was also found when police searched the plane upon landing in Taipei after a three-hour and 45-minute low-cost flight operated by Vietnamese airline Viet Jet.
Authorities have launched an investigation into how the creatures were smuggled through security checkpoints at the notoriously corrupt Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Thailand.
A shocked passenger who filmed the scene said: “The flight took off as planned and the pilot announced that the seat belts could be released.” I came back from the bathroom and my friend whispered softly to me, “There’s a rat on the plane.”
“He was confused so he said again: ‘pet rat, pet rat, it has a white body and it’s not small.’
‘I told the cabin crew and they checked the plane. That’s when they found the large otter under one of the seats.
‘They continued looking for the white rat and an employee caught it. He bit their hand as they took him to the galley in the back of the plane.
Footage shows the rat moving on the floor next to the passenger seat. Then, one of the flight attendants walks down the aisle as other travelers watch the chaos ensue.
The cabin crew reportedly made an announcement ordering anyone who had brought animals on the plane to come forward.
The person filming said several seats were searched before a Chinese passenger “asked for a refund” and allegedly admitted the animals belonged to her.
Staff then asked a passenger who could “speak fluent Chinese” to help them discuss the situation with the woman, who is believed to have bought the creatures at a market in the Thai capital.
The person filming, who did not want to be identified, said “every suitcase” was searched when the plane landed at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport.
Police found a bag allegedly containing 28 star tortoises, a snake, a groundhog, two otters and two other unknown rodents. The creatures were seen being removed from the plane.
The Taoyuan branch of the Defense Inspection Department said yesterday that the star tortoises will be kept in quarantine and the rest will be sent to Pingtung University of Science and Technology for confirmation before disposal.
Cabin crew can be seen discussing the incident. They use plastic gloves to tie a black bag that appears to contain at least one of the animals
Police said the suspect was being questioned and could be fined up to NT$1 million (£25,532) under the provisions of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Animal Diseases.
Bumbling airport bosses today admitted that security staff noticed live animals in a passenger’s hand luggage but waved at the bags on the conveyor belt.
The rat and otter were among the haul that also included turtles, a snake, a groundhog and other rodents found in an X-ray of the bag when it was searched at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
But the guard on duty, who has now been suspended and is being investigated by police, did not open the bag and returned it directly to the passenger without even questioning him, officials admitted today.
The airport said in a statement posted online: “In response to information posted on social media, in the case of a passenger smuggling animals on a Thai Vietjet flight departing Suvarnabhumi International Airport on October 4, 2023 at 3:32 pm, For the destination at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the Royal Thai Police has inspected the work of the security company’s searchers.
‘Police and airport staff checked the closed circuit television (CCTV) camera system and discovered that the passengers who brought the animals on board were two foreigners.
The video shows airport staff loading containers containing the animals from the flight. The otter is then shown moving around in a container at the airport before being transported.
‘Their suitcases were x-rayed at the search point at approximately 1:45 p.m. by image analysis staff. The staff member was suspicious, so he handed the bag to another employee to open it and check whether or not the item in question was dangerous or prohibited.
“However, said employee did not open the suitcase for inspection and allowed the passenger to go through security and continue boarding the plane.”
The statement continues: ‘The Royal Thai Police would like to emphasize that the technological system used within the Royal Thai Police search points can operate in accordance with clearly defined standards and procedures to check prohibited items. But this case occurred due to the error of the employee who opened the bag inspection and did not follow the prescribed operating procedures.
«The police station ordered the employee who performed these tasks to stop working immediately. And if the investigation results reveal negligence in standard operating procedures, they will be punished according to law.
‘In this regard, the Royal Thai Police would like to remind all Thai and foreign travelers not to commit illegal acts by carrying animals or animal carcasses, both live and non-living, on planes in and out of the country.
‘If you want to bring your pet on the trip, please apply for permission correctly. Otherwise, you will risk breaking the law, both Thai and foreign, and will be punished with a fine and imprisonment.’