Saturday, August 26, 2006

1 day, 7 flight-security incidents

1 day, 7 flight-security incidents
Foiled plot tightens rules, heightens stress
By Elizabeth Mehren, Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times; Times staff writers Steve Chawkins in Los Angeles and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, and Tribune reporter Gerry Doyle in Chicago contributed,
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 26, 2006

BOSTON -- Amid new anxiety about air travel and tough new regulations covering what passengers may bring on planes, seven U.S. flights were involved in security incidents on Friday. In one case, a stick of dynamite was found to have been aboard a flight.

The rash of events, safety consultants and others said, reflected heightened emotions and appropriately tightened security in the wake of an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners thwarted this month by British authorities.

"I think it's a combination of both," said Douglas Laird, a Reno-based consultant to the airline industry and former longtime security director for Northwest Airlines. "I think there is a heightened awareness of what happened in London, and that causes some people to overreact."

One incident involved an American Airlines plane headed for Chicago, and another involved a United Airlines plane about to leave O'Hare International Airport.

The Transportation Security Administration said American Flight 55, bound for Chicago from Manchester, England, was diverted to Bangor, Maine, because of "a reported threat to the aircraft while it was en route."

In the United incident at O'Hare, United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said two people and their luggage were taken off Flight 686 after the plane had left the gate. It then departed for LaGuardia Airport in New York. McCarthy said she couldn't provide details.

In what may have been Friday's most serious incident, authorities said a college student's checked luggage on a Continental Airlines flight from Argentina was found to contain a stick of dynamite after it landed in Houston en route to Newark International Airport.

A bomb-sniffing dog at the international arrivals area at Bush Intercontinental Airport detected an explosive substance in a suitcase belonging to a man who told Houston authorities he works in mining and often handles explosives.

The man, Howard McFarland Fish, 21, was charged with carrying an explosive aboard an aircraft. His actions were determined not to be terrorism related, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Also on Friday, a Charlotte-bound U.S. Airways jet that had taken off from Phoenix made a forced landing in Oklahoma City after a federal air marshal reportedly subdued an unruly passenger. Authorities declined to give details pending an investigation.

In another incident, the crew of Continental Airlines Flight 2258, bound for Bakersfield, Calif., from Corpus Christi, Texas, discovered a missing panel in the lavatory, according to the TSA. The plane, carrying 50 passengers, was diverted to El Paso, Texas.

It was held for about four hours before officials determined there was no danger.

In Hartford, Conn., authorities boarded U.S. Airways Flight 554 from Philadelphia after a passenger found a utility knife on a vacant seat. No arrests were made, and no threats issued, state police said.

And in Ireland, an Aer Lingus plane from New York was evacuated at Shannon Airport after police received a call early Friday claiming that "some sort of device" was on board. Police found nothing suspicious, Aer Lingus officials said Friday.

Aviation security has increased dramatically since British intelligence services announced on Aug. 10 that they had broken up a plan to destroy trans-Atlantic airliners with liquid explosives.

Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman in Boston, acknowledged the security measures have raised the anxiety level and inconvenience of air travel.

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Friday's airline-security events

- American Airlines plane flying from England to Chicago diverted to Bangor, Maine

- United Airlines flight from O'Hare International Airport headed to New York delayed when authorities removed two passengers after the plane had left the gate

- Stick of dynamite found in luggage on Continental Airlines plane from Argentina that landed in Houston; 21-year-old man in custody

- US Airways jet diverted to Oklahoma City after air marshal subdued a disruptive passenger

- Continental flight diverted to El Paso, Texas, after crew found missing panel in lavatory

- Knife found on US Airways plane that had flown from Philadelphia to Connecticut

- Aer Lingus plane from New York to Dublin evacuated during a scheduled stopover in Shannon, Ireland, after bomb threat later declared unfounded


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