F-16s escort airliner to BWI after miscommunication

Air controllers thought plane had safety threat

August 28, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

A miscommunication resulted in two military jets intercepting a US Airways flight yesterday morning and escorting it to a landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, authorities said.

The aircraft landed at a remote section of the airport at 9:30 a.m. and was met by state and federal law enforcement and aviation officials who determined no safety threat was on board the flight carrying 45 passengers and a crew of five.

Passengers were permitted to leave the plane about 11 a.m., airport officials said.

"We talked to the crew, we had agents talk to the pilot, and determined that there was not criminal activity on board," said Barry Maddox, a spokesman with the Baltimore division of the FBI.

Agents headed to the airport after being notified by Maryland Transportation Authority Police shortly after 9 a.m. of a "possible hijacking," Maddox said.

But after interviewing the crew, Maddox said, agents confirmed that the incident stemmed from a radio miscommunication between the pilot and air traffic controllers.

"There was a radio situation where air traffic controllers believed there might be a problem on board the aircraft," he said.

Maddox said he was not aware of the details of the discussions between the pilot and the controllers.

US Airways spokesman David Castelveter told the Associated Press: "The pilot said something to the control tower that was perceived as a possible security threat. What he said I don't know."

Federal Aviation Administration officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The aircraft, US Airways Flight 1814, took off from Charlotte, N.C., for BWI about 8 a.m.

The miscommunication prompted ground controllers to request a military escort,

In response, the North American Aerospace Defense Command ordered two F-16 military jets from Andrews Air Force Base to intercept the flight en route to BWI, said Maj. Edward W. Thomas, a NORAD spokesman. The jets were airborne at 9:12 a.m.

"You've got pilots on alert who when given the order by NORAD command run to the cockpit, take off quickly and intercept on the direction of controllers," Thomas said. "

He said NORAD has had 500 interception requests from the FAA since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

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