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Hero plane crew gets hefty reward

BEIJING – Workers around the world sometimes get a little extra cash for jobs with tough occupational hazards, but what do you give an airplane cabin crew that successfully thwarts a hijack attempt?

In China, quite a bit.

Chinese netizens were buzzing on Monday about payouts to crew members of a Tianjin Airlines flight who foiled an attempted hijacking in China’s troubled Xinjiang Province 11 days ago

Hainan Airlines, the parent company of Tianjin Airlines, gave two onboard security officers and the chief flight attendant a cool million yuan each ($157,000), houses said to be worth 3 million yuan each ($470,000) and brand new Audi cars.  

Other crew members involved in foiling the hijacking were awarded a half million yuan ($80,000) each and apartments said to be worth 2 million yuan ($315,000) per person.

In addition to that windfall, the provincial government in Hainan, where the airline is based, awarded all the crew members half a million yuan ($80,000). 

Details have slowly emerged about the incident, with state media reporting that six people tried to hijack the flight 10 minutes after it took off from the Hotan, a city in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, headed to the regional capital, Urumqi. The hijackers reportedly disassembled a pair of crutches into metal rods and attempted to rush the cockpit.

The region, home to the Uighur ethnic minority, is known for its separatist movement, so the alleged hijackers were quickly labeled terrorists by the Chinese media.

After the violence broke out, the reports said, passengers, cabin crew and air security fought back, subduing the hijackers while the pilots turned back and landed safely back at Hotan. The two air police officers were seriously injured during the attempted hijack, while the head flight attendant and seven passengers suffered minor injuries.

Two of the hijackers wounded during the attack died of their injuries, according to news reports.

The announcement of the hefty awards generated a lot of buzz on China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, mostly congratulating the crew for their bravery and service to the 100 passengers onboard. However, some of the comments questioned the large financial prizes to the crew.

“It's necessary to give them [the crew] rewards, but isn't it too much?” wrote one commenter. “If they want to give rewards, shouldn't those passengers on the plane be given more?”

Others took a similar tack with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

“Hainan Airlines is really rich! Next time I will also fly Hainan planes and hope to have the same good luck!” wrote another.

“In the future I will take more flights in Xinjiang – it’s much more reliable than the lottery,” another chimed in.   

Unusually, Chinese state media has given the hijacking, dubbed the “6.29 Hijacking,” more coverage than previous cases involving ethnic unrest, with many details about the incident and warm articles emerging about the heroic crew.

Meanwhile, the government has responded to the incident by tightening flying restrictions in the region. Last week, the government announced new security measures that requires handicapped passengers in wheelchairs or passengers on crutches to show a hospital-issued certification, and passengers flying from the heavily Uighur city of Kashgar are now required to check in crutches and wheelchairs.

NBC News’ Horace Lu contributed to this report

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