Wednesday, April 27, 2005


America: land of the free and home of the scared

Wires, vials lead to scare in the air
Suspicions force jet to land at O'Hare

By Jon Hilkevitch, Tribune transportation reporter. Tribune staff reporters Jennifer Lebovich and John Keilman contributed to this report
Published April 27, 2005 in the Chicago Tribune

A passenger on a cross-country flight Tuesday morning immediately tipped off flight attendants after noticing that the man seated beside him had odd vials of liquid in his pockets and electrical wires running into his coat.

Informed about the situation while the plane cruised about 6 miles above the ground en route to San Francisco from New York, the United Airlines captain declared an emergency and diverted to the closest landing strip that could handle a Boeing 757--O'Hare International Airport.

As the plane made an unusually rapid descent, the passengers were herded to the front of the cabin and belted into available seats to put as much distance as possible between them and the suspicious man and his companion.

The plane landed hard at O'Hare at 10:40 a.m. and was met by emergency vehicles and teams of heavily armored police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs who scrambled aboard.

The vials, it was soon discovered, held a homeopathic herbal lotion carried by a Japanese national who calls himself a "healer," authorities said. The wires were connected to his portable music player.

The incident appears to have been exacerbated by language differences.

In a time of heightened concern about terrorism and explosives aboard commercial planes, the United crew acted appropriately, security officials said Tuesday.

"In the post 9-11 world, passengers, flight attendants and pilots will err on the side of safety and security," said Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. "We are aware it's a decision that has operational impacts and passenger inconveniences, all of which are taken into consideration."

Violent plots that occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks serve as reminders that aviation remains a target of terrorists.

British citizen Richard Reid was convicted for attempting to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22, 2001. Reid was subdued by passengers.

Earlier this month, lighters were banned on U.S. commercial flights, in part because of the Reid incident. He used matches in his unsuccessful attempt to light explosives hidden in his shoes. Authorities later said a lighter might have worked better.

In addition, the downing of two Russian passenger jets in August was caused by suicide bombings carried out by Chechen terrorists, Russian investigators determined.

As the emergency played out Tuesday, a flight attendant brought the vials, which were secured tightly with rubber bands, to the cockpit for the captain to see, authorities said. Unsure what they could be, the captain declared an emergency and requested immediate clearance to O'Hare.

"The pilots and the flight attendants agreed the materials looked strange and wanted to have everything checked out by authorities," United spokesman Jeff Green said.

As a precaution before landing, flight attendants moved the 64 other passengers to seats in the front of the plane.

The crew did not speak Japanese, and the suspicious passenger did not speak much English, officials said.

The tense situation appeared to befuddle a group of Chinese passengers who also did not speak English, passengers said.

The flight crew "told us there was nothing for concern, they were quite close to Chicago," said Jason Wagoner, 35, of Australia. "Most of the passengers seemed confused. Most of them were from Beijing."

The Federal Aviation Administration cleared the airspace to allow the plane to make a quick descent.

"We took a dive out of the sky from 35,000 feet into O'Hare," said passenger Richard Myers, 63, of Manhattan, adding that the captain came on the cabin intercom to announce a security threat. "It was a very hard landing."

i love streetman, but what the heck, jokelley, are you on vacation?

even i have my own blog these days, which you could link you know:

wbw out...
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