F-16 jets escort airliner to BWI after pilot's call

Unruly passengers raised suspicion on Detroit flight

February 07, 2003

Two military F-16s were called to escort a Northwest Airlines plane into Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday after the pilot told air traffic controllers that three passengers were acting unruly, officials said.

Federal authorities detained the three men for about three hours before determining their stories checked out and they posed no threat.

Law enforcement sources described them as being of Middle Eastern descent. Their names were not released.

"There were no threats of violence, no threats to the flight attendant," said Special Agent Barry A. Maddox, a spokesman for the FBIs field office in Baltimore. "It was just things that the flight attendant felt she should notify the pilot [about]."

Maddox and other officials would not elaborate on what behavior aroused suspicion, but sources said that about 30 minutes into the flight from Detroit the men changed seats and whispered to one another in a foreign language.

The behavior was enough for a passenger to alert flight attendants, who agreed they were acting strangely.

Flight 1134, carrying 48 passengers and five crew members, departed before 7 a.m. Detroit time and landed at 8:19 a.m. at BWI.

The men were taken from the plane, and the rest of the passengers were questioned for about an hour, said Northwest Airlines spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert.

Bomb-sniffing dogs scanned the aircraft but found nothing out of the ordinary, said Cpl. Gregory Prioleau of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Passengers on the flight, including the three men, were apparently unaware of any concerns until they landed at BWI and the plane was surrounded by police cars and other emergency vehicles.

"One of the three made the comment that he didnt even know he was being suspected of anything until they landed and they saw all the police cars and he wondered, Who are they after?'" Maddox said.

In another incident yesterday, a bizarre note a passenger gave to a flight attendant forced a plane to return to the gate at Washingtons Ronald Reagan National Airport.

ATA Flight 295 to Chicagos Midway Airport had just pushed back and was taxiing toward the runway when a man passed the note written on a napkin which contained three words: fast, neat, average.

Airline spokeswoman Angela Thomas said the man asked that the note be given to the pilot, and it was. But the pilot had no idea what it meant, and a decision was made to return the plane with its 90 passengers and crew of six to the gate.

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police were waiting and took the unidentified man into custody. After several hours of questioning and background checks, he was released, a police spokeswoman said.

According to Thomas, the man claimed to be an Air Force Academy cadet, and said the message on his note would have been understood by an Air Force pilot. The ATA pilot did not have military experience.

Several retired and current Air Force officers, including some with experience at the Air Force Academy, said they were unfamiliar with the term or its significance.

The flight left one hour 15 minutes late, and arrived in Chicago without further incident.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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