Fighter jets escort plane to JFKBy KEITH HERBERT, MATTHEW CHAYES AND TOM BRUNE
September 12, 2011
Fighter jets escorted a commercial jet to Kennedy Airport Sunday afternoon after an air marshal became concerned when three passengers repeatedly left their seats to use a bathroom, according to a law enforcement source.
The incident on the flight from Los Angeles doesn't appear to be connected to an unconfirmed threat revealed last week of three men, directed by al-Qaida, who planned to enter the United States and detonate a car bomb, a federal law enforcement official said.
American Airlines Flight 34, which originated in Los Angeles, landed at Kennedy Airport on Runway 4L at about 4:10 p.m. accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets. It was due at 4:16 p.m. in Terminal 8, according to flight records and the law enforcement source, who was not identified because the person was not authorized to speak on the record.
There were 153 passengers and 11 crew members on the plane, a Boeing 767, said Andrea Huguely, an American Airlines spokeswoman.
The aircraft touched down without incident.
Air marshals removed "two guys and they're being questioned," Rep. Peter King told Newsday. "It was peacefully resolved."
King (R-Seaford), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said he did not know what happened but had not heard of injuries or damage stemming from the incident.
In a statement released shortly after the plane landed, federal Transportation Security Administration officials said they was notified of "suspicious" behavior at about 3 p.m.
"Out of an abundance of caution, NORAD scrambled two F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely at JFK at approximately 4:10 p.m. ET," said the agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. "Law enforcement met the flight and will interview passengers."
NORAD is an acronym for North American Aerospace Defense Command. The U.S. and Canadian agency scans the skies for aerial threats to North America.
Huguely said the flight crew did not believe that the repeated bathroom visits by the passengers in question represented a security threat.
"There were passengers that did get up to go to the restroom, but never at any point in time did our crew feel as through there was an issue," she said.
The incident occurred as 9/11 ceremonies wrapped up in the New York area -- already on alert because of the threat of a terrorist attack during the commemoration.
Passenger Steven Ciobo, 37, who was seated in business class, said no one in his section knew anything was out of the ordinary until the plane landed and taxied.
But when he looked out the window, he saw a line of police cars with their lights on, said Ciobo, of Australia.
"I thought, 'That's weird,' " Ciobo said as he picked up his bags after the flight.
The plane taxied to the gate, but everyone had to remain in their seats as a half-dozen officers boarded, Ciobo said. He said the officers walked directly to the back.
Most of the passengers were then let off.