British jets escort flight from BWI in terror scare

2 men headed to London on British Airways are questioned, released

October 04, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - A British Airways plane that took off from Baltimore was escorted by British military jets to London Heathrow Airport yesterday after a passenger told crew members she was suspicious of two men on board, authorities said. Anti-terrorism police boarded the plane with machine guns but released the men after leading them outside and questioning them for about 15 minutes.

British Airways Flight 228 left Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday with 193 passengers and 14 crew members aboard.

About 8:30 a.m. London time, a female passenger aboard the Boeing 767 notified a crew member that she had overheard two male passengers talking and became suspicious, said Richard Goodfellow, a spokesman for British Airways.

The crew member informed the aircraft's captain and the captain radioed the control tower, which notified the Royal Air Force.

Tornado F-3 fighter aircraft scrambled as a precaution and escorted the plane to Heathrow, where it landed at 9:45, Goodfellow said.

"The two gentlemen were chatting away, and the female passenger thought they were talking in a certain way and notified the crew," he said, declining to discuss the nature of the conversation. "Police entered the aircraft when it landed, chatted with the two men, and it was found that there was nothing untoward, and the two gentlemen were released without any further action taken."

Goodfellow would not identify the men or where they were from, but said they were a father and son who boarded the flight in Baltimore.

Anthony Cooper, a spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police Department, said the plane had been directed to a remote area of the airport.

The two men were taken from the plane, he said, questioned and released after police determined the female passenger "misinterpreted" what they were talking about. The plane then taxied to its assigned gate and passengers departed about 10 a.m.

Passengers remained calm throughout the incident, the spokesman said.

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