Washington: When explosives hidden in his underwear failed to detonate, would-be jet bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab seemed shocked and "in over his head”, a college student who sat next to him on the US plane said.
Jay Howard, 21, shared his recollections of the fateful Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with National Public Radio in an interview that aired on Wednesday.
As smoke filled the plane's cabin during its approach to Detroit, Abdulmutallab "seemed very surprised and shocked at what was happening, like he didn't know what was going to happen," the Michigan college student said.
"The look on his face was of utter shock," he added. "What his actions told me on the plane was that he was in over his head, and he didn't exactly know what he was doing would entail."
Howard said there initially was nothing unusual about Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian accused of trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines plane with nearly 300 people aboard in what would have been the worst attack on the United States since September 11, 2001.
He was allegedly trained by an al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
During most of the flight, Abdulmutallab was polite, trying to sleep, listening to music and refusing to eat, telling flight attendants he had an upset stomach, according to Howard.
Several hours after the plane took off, a small explosion erupted aboard, followed by smoke.
"I was very curious what had happened, because it sounded very close to me," Howard said, noting there was "a repulsive smell”.
When he turned to Abdulmutallab, Howard noticed the Nigerian had covered himself with a blanket. When Howard asked Abdulmutallab about the smoke, he did not reply. Howard then grabbed Abdulmutallab's blanket, which released more of the putrid-smelling smoke.
Commotion immediately ensued aboard the plane, as some passengers cried or screamed and scrambled for water or fire extinguishers to put out the smoke and flames, according to Howard.
First Published: Thursday, February 18, 2010, 12:02