Sick Australian Forces Emergency Landing in Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam -- A Vietnam Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing after an Australian passenger became severely ill after swallowing packets of heroin, an official said Monday.

Two hours into a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney on Saturday, the pilot was forced to return to Vietnam so the passenger could receive emergency medical treatment, said Nguyen Van Quat, the administrative head of the Southern Airport Authorities.

The 200 passengers were delayed for five hours before the flight resumed, Quat said.

The passenger, Kant Nguyen, 36, an Australian citizen of Vietnamese origin, was transferred to the anti-drug police unit at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City for further investigation and has since been hospitalized, he said.

Doctors at Cho Ray hospital in Ho Chi Minh City found small plastic packets of heroin in Nguyen's stomach, Quat said, adding it was still unclear how many grams he had swallowed or how much had seeped into his system.

Graham Pearce, an official at the Australian Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, said he has not received any information about the case.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Possessing, trading or trafficking more than 600 grams (1.3 pounds) of heroin or 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of opium is punishable by death or life in prison.

Smugglers frequently try to hide drugs in plastic packets or condoms that they swallow. A break in any of the packets can result in a fatal overdose.

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