Jetliner grounded in San Francisco after threat
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Last Updated: Friday, August 20, 2010, 14:07
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 scrutiny.

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 school.

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 security checks.

"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 voices."

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 Joseph Schadler.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, August 20, 2010, 14:07

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