Two fighter jets were scrambled Wednesday to escort a London-to-Washington flight to an emergency landing in Boston after a passenger became so agitated she needed to be restrained, authorities said. But the suspected terror threat turned out to be nothing more than unruly passenger — the second time in a week that the U.S. government scrambled its resources for a threat that wasn’t.
The federal official for Boston’s Logan International Airport said there was no indication of terrorism and denied reports that the passenger aboard United Flight 923 had a screw driver and a note referring to al-Qaida. The scare turned out to be the second time in less than a week that a so-called terror threat turned out to be nothing. A high-profile arrest of Texas men for buying cell phones in a purported plot to blow up a bridge in Michigan turned out to be unfounded.
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.
The disturbance — coming just a week after authorities in London said they foiled a terror plot to blow up flights to the U.S. — was enough of a concern that the pilot declared an emergency, which activated two fighter jets to escort the plane into Logan, said George Naccara, security director for the Transportation Security Administration for Massachusetts’ airports.
Two F-15s were sent from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod to escort the airliner, said Master Sgt. Anthony Hill, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo. He said the fighter pilots can intercept, shadow or escort commercial aircraft and, if ordered, shoot down an aircraft deemed to be a threat.
State police and federal agencies took control of the plane after it landed.
Passengers were taken off the plane, put on a bus and taken to a terminal to be interviewed, Naccara said. Their luggage was spread out on the tarmac, where it was rechecked by security officials and trained dogs. Officials expected the passengers would be allowed onto another flight to Washington later Wednesday.
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.
An airport spokesman, Phil Orlandella, previously confirmed broadcast reports that the woman was carrying Vaseline, a screw driver, matches and a note referring to al-Qaida, but later backed off the statement. Naccara said it was not true.
“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-Qaida reference,” Naccara said. He said he had no information about matches.
The flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Washington’s Dulles Airport had 182 passengers and 12 crew members, said Brandon Borrman, spokesman for United Airlines parent UAL Corp.
Since the foiled terror plot surfaced in London last week, airports have tightened security in both the United Kingdom and the U.S. Liquids and gels have been banned from carry-on luggage, and even tighter restrictions are in place in the U.K.
Terror scares garner particular attention in Boston because of Logan’s history. Members of al-Qaida hijacked two planes from Logan on Sept. 11, 2001, and flew them into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay and Nancy Rabinowitz in Boston and Dave Zelio in Denver contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press