US Air jet diverts after passenger claims to have "device"

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 11, 2012 5:24 PM
US Air jet diverts after passenger claims to have "device"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A passenger who claimed to have a surgically implanted device prompted a US Airways jetliner to divert to Maine on Tuesday in a security scare that followed a recently foiled bomb plot targeting U.S.-bound aircraft, government officials said.

Flight 787, from Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina, with 188 people aboard, landed safely around noon EDT in Bangor trailed by two F-15 fighter escorts that scrambled to intercept the Boeing 767 as it approached the coast, authorities said.

The passenger jet's crew reported that the cockpit was secure before landing in light rain and taxiing to an isolated area away from the airport terminal, according to a recording of air traffic control communication with the plane.

The woman passenger, described as a French citizen born in Cameroon, was removed from the aircraft and was questioned by Customs and Border Protection and taken into custody by the FBI, officials said.

There were no indications that the incident was connected to terrorism.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said in a statement the plane was diverted out of "an abundance of caution" where it was met by law enforcement.

Passengers also were interviewed and authorities believed they were never in any danger, an FBI official in Boston said.

The flight resumed to Charlotte later in the afternoon without further incident, the airline said.

The diversion was alarming because of a recent disclosure of a foiled plot by al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate to bomb a U.S.-bound plane, and apparent U.S. security directives about continued extremist interest in targeting aviation and the ways in which they are trying to circumvent airport security with exotic weapons.

"We have seen intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel," said U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, who spoke with TSA Administrator John Pistole and confirmed key details of Tuesday's incident.

Collins and House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, a Republican, said in separate statements that the passenger, whose name was not released, handed a note to a flight attendant saying she was carrying a surgically implanted device.

The device was not identified but two doctors on the flight examined the woman and did not find any sign of recent scars, King and Collins said.

King added that the woman was traveling alone without any checked baggage and was due to visit the United States for 10 days.

In another incident, the crew on a US Airways commuter flight operated by the carrier's Piedmont subsidiary, reported a "possible flare" when the plane was approaching the Philadelphia airport, the airline said.

US Airways Express Flight 4321 from Elmira, New York, with 34 passengers and three crew on board, landed without incident, the airline said.

The crew said it appeared that a flare entrail was "more than 50 feet off our right wing," according to air traffic controller recordings released by LiveATC.net.

The airport runway was briefly shut down, the FAA said.

Authorities later described the incident as a possible flare near the airport, but they were not certain where it came from or where it landed. The area around the airport is heavily developed and close to a major highway.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Susan Cornwell, Kyle Peterson, John Crawley, Susan Heavey, Chris Francescani, Tim Hepher, and David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Paul Simao)