Wednesday, August 16, 2006

London-to-DC Flight Diverted After 'Passenger Disturbance'

Fox News is reporting:

Fighter jets escorted a London-to-Washington, D.C. United Airlines flight to a landing at Boston's Logan Airport Wednesday after the pilot declared an emergency over a passenger disturbance , FOX News has confirmed.

Transportation Security Administration Director George Naccara refuted initial reports that the incident was terrorist related, and said the passenger was claustrophobic, became upset, and got into a confrontation with the flight crew. The incident was enough to concern the pilot to issue an alert, which activated two fighter jets to escort the plane into Logan, Naccara said.

Naccara denied reports that the woman was carrying Vaseline, a screwdriver, matches and a note referencing Al Qaeda. Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman Phil Orlandella initially said an unidentified woman carrying those items had been taken into custody. "I don't know what she had on board with her, but we have been told she did not have a screw driver, she did not have any liquids such as Vaseline, and any notebook she may have had, it did not contain an Al Qaeda reference," Naccara said. ""This is still playing out, of course. There was speculation in the beginning of all those items, but those have been proven untrue."

Earlier in the morning, United spokesman Brandon Borrman said a female passenger was spotted engaging in what was described as "suspicious" activity, but he could not detail what the activity was.

All passengers and crew were escorted off the plane immediately after it landed at Logan, and were taken to a holding area at the airport for interviews by FBI and other federal security officials.

The plane was isolated on a far runway as ground crew removed all pieces of luggage and placed them on the tarmac for inspection by security personnel and bomb sniffing dogs...

The United flight diverted on Wednesday carried 182 passengers and 12 crew members. It was escorted to Boston by two F-15 fighter jets that took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts after a "domestic events network" call was initiated. That's a hotline for aviation officials used when there's a call made that a plane is off route, there's a disturbance on board an aircraft, or a violation of airspace has occurred.

State Police and federal agencies took control of the plane after it landed safely...

Terror scares garner particular attention in Boston because of Logan's history. Members of Al Qaeda hijacked two planes from Logan on Sept. 11, 2001, and flew them into the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Logan Airport also was where an American Airlines Paris-Miami flight was diverted in 2001 when Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, tried to blow up the plane. He was thwarted by attendants and passengers after he tried to light a fuse leading to the concealed plastic explosives in his sneakers. He is now serving a life prison sentence.

***Update, 4:02pm***

SABC News is reporting:

"There was an altercation with at least one female passenger," a United Airlines spokesperson said. A federal law enforcement official said the woman had an anxiety attack. "There are no known links to terrorism regarding this event at this time," said Christopher White, a transportation security administration spokesperson...

"There was a supposed confrontation on board. There may have been a banned item on board and they are now searching the luggage," said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman at Boston's Logan International Airport. He said the passengers were being interviewed by police before being put on alternative flights.

They don't mention it in the story, but the caption to the story's photo reads, "Flight 923 was disrupted by a female armed with a screwdriver." Possibly the "banned item" that was reported to be on board. Initial reports said that the woman had a screwdriver, matches, Vaseline, and a letter from Al Qaeda.

***Update, 6:37pm*** is reporting that there was no screwdriver on board, but quotes Gov. Romney:

Gov. Mitt Romney said the 59-year-old woman was from Vermont and became so claustrophobic and upset that she needed to be restrained. The FBI in Boston said the woman, a U.S. citizen, was detained for allegedly interfering with a flight crew and was being questioned.

So, it just looks like a woman panicked. It never mentions her ethnicity. However, the story also says:

Romney said a search of the woman's bag turned up matches and a gelatin-like substance, which he did not define, but there was no indication the items were related to terrorism. Naccara said he did not believe any items she was carrying were the cause of the emergency.

So fortunately this was not a terror plot, however, it does show that there are holes in current airport security.

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