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Man charged in bomb scare

Authorities say a reservist claimed to have explosives on a Paris-Atlanta flight.

April 29, 2010|Richard A. Serrano

WASHINGTON — An Air Force reservist working for a defense contractor in Africa was charged Wednesday with making bomb threats on a flight to the U.S. that prompted four air marshals to barricade his boots and laptop in the rear of the jetliner for fear any explosives might go off in midair.

Derek Michael Stansberry, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as an Air Force intelligence specialist, allegedly said that he had packed dynamite in his boots and other explosives in his laptop, and that he had a "pressure switch" to detonate the devices.

The plane, Delta Flight 273 from Paris to Atlanta, carrying 235 passengers and a crew of 13, was diverted to Bangor, Maine, on Tuesday. Stansberry was arrested and charged with interfering with a flight crew and making false bomb threats on an aircraft.

FBI Special Agent James R. McCarty said in an affidavit that Stansberry, 26, of Riverview, Fla., had passed a somewhat incoherent note to a flight attendant:

"I am not an American citizen. I was in Ouaga illegally. My passports and identity are fake. I bought that bag on eBay and have no association with the United States. I will take whatever COA the US wants. I will leave my wallet & passport on this aircraft."

McCarty said the note ended: "Please let my family know the truth -- I [screwed] up & will let the HN preside over prosecutions; and that I love them."

It was unclear what Stansberry meant by the acronyms.

Stansberry made rambling statements about holding "high level government clearances" for secret material, and said the bombs were to "divert attention from the fact that he had classified information," McCarty said.

The crew alerted four air marshals on the plane. At that point, McCarty said, Stansberry was moved to the rear of the aircraft, along with his boots, backpack and laptop. Blankets and pillows were braced around the items to serve as a makeshift "bunker."

Authorities said it turned out there were no explosives in the laptop, although a minute trace of some chemical was "preliminarily" found on the boots. They theorized it may have come from his work in Africa.

His father, Richard Stansberry of Apollo Beach, Fla., could not explain his son's alleged behavior. "Something did happen. But what caused it to happen, I have no clue," the father said in an interview.

He denied that his son was stressed from his Air Force service from 2005 to 2009, when he conducted mission briefings for flight operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. "He was kind of like a big brother in the sky" to pilots, the father said.

He speculated that his son might have been affected by taking an Ambien sedative for the long flight. The son told authorities he took one Ambien, then said he took eight, then said he also used Valium.

McCarty said Stansberry "was responsive to questions, but he spoke in military jargon and had trouble keeping the events in a chronological order."

In a separate incident Wednesday, a Continental Express flight from Houston to the Washington area was diverted to Greensboro, N.C., after someone discovered the word "bomb" written on a bathroom mirror. No bombs were found and no arrests were made.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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