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Hoax Transmissions Interfere With Air Traffic Control Operations in Melbourne

Australian police have confirmed that 15 hoax calls were made last month by an unidentified person or persons able to tap into the local air traffic control frequency.

Australian authorities are investigating over a dozen hoax radio transmissions that were made late last month to planes flying over Melbourne’s Tullamarine (MEL) and Avalon (AVV) airports.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) reported that the hoax broadcasts did not pose a threat to public safety, but Chris Sheehan, the organization’s head of crime operations, confirmed to the BBC that the authorities were treating these incidents “extremely seriously.”

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 15 hoax calls were made during a two-week period in October and were picked up by aircraft as well as Melbourne’s Air Traffic Services Centre.

Authorities believe that an unidentified source was somehow able to tap into the local air traffic control frequency, possibly using a portable radio.

While authorities have confirmed that there was no danger to the public safety, the ABC reported that, on October 27, Virgin Australia Flight 740 first changed altitude just before aborting its landing after receiving instructions from the hoaxer.

Data from website FlightRadar24 shows that VA740 was just 275 feet off the ground before abruptly terminating its landing.

The ABC has also captured a conversation that took place later that same evening between an air traffic controller and a hoaxer pretending to be the pilot of a light aircraft in distress.

While the controller at first has difficulties in ascertaining the craft’s position, he does eventually sight the plane that the hoaxer claims to pilot.

“I can see you there now. Roger your mayday. Could you please advise what your situation is,” the controller is heard to have said during the recording.

The hoaxer replies, “Engine failure. Descending passing through 4500.”

Seconds later, personnel in the control tower announced to pilots listening on the frequency that the transmission was deemed to be malicious.

AFP’s Chris Sheehan has said that, “These incidents are being thoroughly investigated by the AFP, with technical support from the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority).”

He added that, “The airlines have been briefed to ensure the advice has been passed on to their pilots and to ensure appropriate measures are in place.”

[Photo: Melbourne Airport]

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