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Disruptive Passenger Causes Plane's Emergency Landing

August 17, 2006|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Escorted by fighter jets, a plane bound for the U.S. from London made an emergency landing here Wednesday after a female passenger became disruptive.

The unidentified woman -- 59 years old and a U.S. citizen -- was removed from United Airlines Flight 923, which left London's Heathrow Airport bound for Washington Dulles International Airport and then Denver.

Federal and airline officials discounted initial reports that the passenger was carrying prohibited items or that she had a notebook with references to Al Qaeda.

Air travelers on both sides of the Atlantic have encountered enhanced security since British authorities announced last week that they thwarted an attempt to blow up planes bound from London to the U.S. British police have made two dozen arrests in that alleged plot.

"There is no information regarding this event having any nexis to terrorism," said Christopher White, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

White said Wednesday that local and federal officials were continuing to interview the disruptive passenger.

He said the passenger "did have hand cream and matches on her person. Matches are not a prohibited item."

Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz of the FBI's Boston office said Wednesday that the woman who was taken into custody stated that she suffered from claustrophobia.

State police would not confirm an arrest Wednesday, and Marcinkiewicz said federal authorities were still determining whether charges would be brought.

Marcinkiewicz said alcohol did not appear to be a factor. "This was not a drunken person, to my knowledge," she said.

United Airlines spokesman Brandon Borrman said Wednesday, "There was an altercation with this one passenger, and at some point our crew became involved. I don't know if she was subdued by passenger or crew."

He added: "Our flight crew made the determination that this situation warranted a diversion."

The Boeing 767 aircraft carried 182 passengers and a crew of 12, according to Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Massport, the agency that oversees Logan International Airport in Boston.

The plane landed without incident on a remote runway at Logan at about 10:20 a.m., Orlandella said. The disruptive passenger was taken into custody, and other passengers were bused to a terminal for questioning and customs inspection.

All checked and carry-on luggage was inspected by explosives-detecting dogs, TSA officials said.

Denver-bound passengers were placed on a different plane that left Boston at midday, Borrman said. The original aircraft was cleared to fly to Dulles late Wednesday afternoon, he said.

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