Unruly passengers cause 2 flights to change course
Associated Press Writers
DENVER – Military jets scrambled to intercept a San Francisco-bound jetliner reporting a problem aboard – one of two commercial airplanes diverted because of disruptive passengers.
In addition, police at London’s Heathrow Airport arrested three passengers after removing them from a jetliner bound for Dubai. Police said the three men allegedly made a bomb threat on an Emirates airline passenger jet Friday night as it was about to take off. A search of the plane found nothing suspicious.
The other passengers were taken off the plane and put up in a hotel overnight.
Friday’s passenger plane disruptions came amid heightened concern over airline security after following an alleged Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines plane.
Two F-16s were launched at 11:44 a.m. to catch up with AirTran Airways Flight 39 from Atlanta to San Francisco after a report that an intoxicated passenger had locked himself in a bathroom, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
The jets arrived over Colorado Springs Airport as the captain – who AirTran said had decided to divert the plane – landed there around noon, NORAD spokeswoman Stacey Knott said.
Colorado Springs police detained the passenger, who allegedly refused to follow flight crew instructions to take his seat before locking himself in a lavatory. Canine teams searched the airplane, and the flight was cleared to continue to San Francisco.
Muhammad Abu Tahir, 46, of Virginia, was being held at the El Paso County jail, the FBI said. Federal charges for interference with a flight crew were expected to be filed Monday. His hometown was not immediately available.
Also Friday, a Hawaii-bound flight had to change course and land in Los Angeles after a man was accused of harassing a woman. The man was removed from the jet that departed Las Vegas early Friday.
The man was interviewed and released after the woman declined to press charges, Los Angeles airport police Sgt. Jim Holcomb said. The exact nature of the disruption or whether the passengers knew each other wasn’t known, Holcomb said.
The Hawaiian Airlines flight resumed to Honolulu and arrived three hours late.
It was the second time this week a flight to Hawaii had to change course because of an onboard disruption.
On Wednesday, a Maui-bound Hawaiian Airlines flight from Portland, Ore., was turned around and escorted by two F-15 military fighters because of an uncooperative passenger. The U.S. attorney’s office on Friday filed a charge of interfering with a crew member against the passenger, Joseph Hedlund Johnson of Salem, Ore.
An FBI affidavit said Johnson, traveling with his girlfriend, held his carry-on bag closely and was unhappy he couldn’t stow it under his seat.
He was in the bulkhead row, so there was no seat ahead to provide storage beneath, the affidavit said. Attendants told him the space beneath his seat was reserved for the feet of the passenger behind.
Then the 56-year-old then filled out a comment card with phrases about death and crashing, and he gave it to an attendant who passed it along to the pilot, the affidavit said.
“The Captain stated that he absolutely felt threatened by the contents of the card, especially when he considered Johnson’s earlier suspicious behavior with his bag,” the affidavit said.
A search after the plane returned showed Johnson and his girlfriend had no dangerous items, the FBI said.
Johnson was not jailed. He is expected to appear in court Monday.