San Francisco: A hijack threat halted an
American Airlines flight just before takeoff, leaving the New
York-bound jet sitting on the tarmac for several hours while
it was searched and passengers were removed for extra
The FBI later determined that the telephoned threat
wasn`t credible, but in the wake of the September 11, 2001
terror attacks and a series of airline scares in the past
year, the incident still rattled nerves as it played out live
on national TV.
Police were investigating who called in the hijacking
threat and what their motivation might have been.
Although passengers described the scene aboard the Boeing
767 as calm, a witness said a man and a woman sitting in the
back row were taken off in handcuffs. But they were quickly
released and allowed to rebook their flights.
The couple confirmed to an Associated Press reporter that
they were the ones who had been removed from the plane but
declined to identify themselves. They said authorities
explained they were picked at random for questioning.
But a fellow passenger suggested the couple may have been
targeted because of their appearance. Michael Anderson, 20,
saw the couple at the American Airlines ticket counter after
all the passengers were let off the detained plane and
observed them carrying passports from Pakistan.
"It definitely seems like it was racial profiling, based
on what they look like physically and the fact they are
Pakistani. It seems like this was a false accusation," said
Anderson, a Yale University sophomore who was heading back to
American Airlines Flight 24, with 163 passengers and a
crew of 11, was already running 2 1/2 hours late when it
pulled away from the gate at 10 am local time. Minutes later,
it was being dispatched to a remote stretch of tarmac at San
Francisco International Airport where it sat for two hours.
Passengers were taken by buses to a terminal for further
"There was no fear in the cabin at all," passenger
Michael Kidd told a news agency. "It was pretty calm. Even with the
frustration of having to sit there, there were no raised
Police eventually entered through the back door and
arrested the two passengers. Others on board were taken off
the plane six at a time and put on buses. San Francisco
Police Department officers used security wands to screened
them and their carry-on luggage.
"The two passengers were taken off the plane separately,
but we cannot discuss the specifics why," said FBI spokesman