BANGOR, Maine - A Charlotte-bound US Airways jet from Paris was diverted to Maine on Tuesday after a passenger indicated she had a surgically implanted device, raising fears of a new terror strategy that security officials had warned about.
There is no evidence the plane was ever in danger, officials said. An examination by two doctors aboard the plane found that the passenger, a French citizen born in Cameroon, had no scars or incisions, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was briefed by Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department warned airlines last summer that terrorists are considering surgically hiding bombs inside humans to evade airport security.
We have seen intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel, said Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.
The plane landed shortly after noon Tuesday after two F-15 fighters scrambled to escort Flight 787 with 179 passengers and nine crew members to Bangor International Airport, about 130 miles northeast of Portland, Maine.
But many passengers who arrived in Charlotte on Tuesday evening described the flight as calm, saying theyd believed the woman was simply ill and that they were unaware of any potential danger until landing in Bangor, where they were greeted by droves of local, state and federal authorities, as well as search dogs.
Jack Stevens, 78, of Asheville, said he was heading home Tuesday after traveling in France with a group of fellow UNC-Chapel Hill alumni. He sat a few rows behind the woman and noticed that she maybe twice walked up and down the aisle, but he didnt think her actions seemed unusual given that the flight was expected to be about eight hours.
Several hours into the flight, Stevens said, someone made an announcement over the jets intercom, asking whether any passengers on board were doctors. The woman was escorted to the back of the plane.
Soon, Stevens said, it became obvious that the plane was descending. The pilot announced that he needed to make a stop to refuel as a result of strong headwinds. Passengers grew suspicious, however, when they saw agents waiting for the plane.
Stevens said the pilot later apologized for the fib, explaining that hed been instructed by authorities not to alarm the passengers.
Passengers said the woman was taken out of the back of the plane in handcuffs.
Tony Caruso, acting airport manager in Bangor, told reporters that the passenger was removed after the jet taxied to a remote part of the airport.
The jetliner had been about 40 minutes from Bangor when local officials were alerted, Caruso said. The remaining passengers aboard the Boeing 767 were kept in a secure area in the airport before being allowed back onto the jet, which departed 3 1/2 hours later for Charlotte.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and was briefed on the matter, said the woman who was detained was traveling alone without any checked baggage and intended to stay in the U.S. for 10 days.
Airlines and counterterrorism agencies have been on the watch for the possibility that terrorists would try to bring down a plane using a bomb concealed on a passenger or even implanted. The state of alert was heightened after intelligence agencies penetrated the Al-Qaida network in Yemen a few weeks ago and captured a bomb designed to be hidden in a persons clothing.
We have seen intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel, Collins said. My understanding is TSA issued security directives recently to airports, airline carriers, TSA screeners and foreign governments advising them to take added screening precautions and to be on the lookout for indicators of surgically implanted explosives.
The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights. Its the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights and the last U.S. airport for outgoing flights, with uncluttered skies and one of the longest runways on the East Coast. Aircraft use the airport when there are mechanical problems, medical emergencies or unruly passengers.
The flight was originally set to land at Charlotte Douglas International Airport around 2:35 p.m. It eventually landed around 5:40 p.m.
Karen Dagher of Boone was waiting at the baggage claim. Her mother, who lives in Beirut, Lebanon, was traveling alone on Flight 787 to North Carolina to see one of her granddaughters graduate from Watauga High School.
As Dagher drove to Charlotte Douglas on Tuesday to pick her up, she turned on the radio and heard a breaking news alert about her mothers flight. They spoke once her mother had arrived in Maine, but they didnt talk about the unplanned landing. Dagher said she didnt want her to dwell on what had happened before flying to Charlotte.
I think she deserves a break in Blowing Rock after this. Observer reporters April Bethea, Meghan Cooke, The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed.