F-15s escort Belgian plane to BWI after diversion

Aircraft needed clearance for a landing at Andrews

September 20, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Two F-15 fighter jets escorted an aircraft carrying Belgian veterans of the Korean War to Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning after the plane was diverted from Andrews Air Force Base.

Officials said the Belgian Air Force Airbus 310 - which was allowed to land at the base about 2 1/2 hours later - did not pose a security risk. But they said that it also did not have the appropriate clearance to land at Andrews at the time.

Master Sgt. Gary Carpenter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the fighter jets were patrolling the skies over the East Coast about 10 a.m. when the Federal Aviation Administration requested that they escort the plane to BWI, he said.

"The reason we were asked for assistance was because of the FAA concern that it did not have the proper diplomatic clearance," Carpenter said. "We were not treating it as a hostile situation."

The plane was not scheduled to land at Andrews until 12:30 p.m., said base spokesman Maj. James Finkle.

FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler, speaking on behalf of the Transportation Security Administration, said the TSA could not verify that the flight had a waiver it needed to land at the base. When the plane landed at BWI's international pier, it was met by law enforcement and TSA officials, she said.

The plane refueled before departing for Andrews about 12:10 p.m., a BWI spokeswoman said.

Finkle said 29 people were on the plane - nine crewmembers and 20 Korean War veterans who were traveling to Washington to attend ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the war. They were scheduled to attend a reception at the Belgium Embassy last night and a dinner with Korean officials tonight. They plan to lay wreaths tomorrow at the Korean War Veterans Memorial before heading back to Belgium on Sunday.

Last month, two fighter jets escorted a US Airways flight to BWI after a miscommunication between the pilot and air traffic controllers led controllers to suspect a possible hijacking. After interviewing the crew, state and federal law enforcement officials determined that there was no security threat.

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