New York-to-Phoenix flight diverted to St. Louis

AP News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 2:45 PM
New York-to-Phoenix flight diverted to St. Louis

Investigators have determined that there was no terrorism involved in an incident that caused a US Airways flight from New York to Phoenix to be diverted to St. Louis on Tuesday, officials at the St. Louis airport said.

US Airways flight 457 landed at Lambert Airport just before 8 a.m. after crew became concerned about the activities of three male passengers, all three of whom were Israeli citizens.

All 128 passengers were taken to the concourse and the plane was given a security sweep. The plane took off for Phoenix a little over two hours later.

The three men remained in St. Louis for interviews with airport police, the FBI and the Transportation Safety Administration. Once cleared of wrongdoing, they were put on another plane to Phoenix, airport police chief Paul Mason said.

Mason said the men do not speak fluent English, but he did not speculate if a language barrier was part of the problem. They were also carrying a box that turned out to be for a game of backgammon, Mason said.

"It was their actions that caused the broad attention," Mason said. "The whole nation has been on alert and we've asked citizens, if you see something, say something.

"The flight attendant was concerned and the pilot decided to err on the side of caution," Mason said.

Mason said the men were traveling together. One of the men was not in his seat prior to takeoff, he said. Then, soon after the plane got into the air, one of the men began walking up the aisle. When instructed to return to his seat, he sat in another unassigned seat.

The incident comes amid heightened awareness around the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

On Sunday, a GoJet Airlines flight from St. Louis to Washington returned to the gate at Lambert before taking off, after crew became concerned when they found paper towels stuffed in a toilet. Passengers were re-screened, the plane took off again and landed at Dulles Airport in Washington about an hour later than scheduled.

Also Sunday, fighter jets were scrambled to escort two commercial flights into New York City and Detroit after crews reported suspicious activity. Bathroom use was also cited in those incidents: On an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to John F. Kennedy Airport, three passengers made repeated trips to the bathroom; and on a Denver-to-Detroit Frontier Airlines flight, the crew reported two people were spending "an extraordinarily long time" in the bathroom.