Mon, Aug 11, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Air France co-pilot arrested for flippant shoe-bomb remark

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The co-pilot of Air France's late flight to Paris was arrested at Kennedy International Airport on Friday after making a remark about having a bomb in his shoe at a security checkpoint, officials said. No bomb was found, but he was charged with two felonies, the flight was canceled and 353 passengers were grounded overnight.

It may have been a joke or an exasperated response to elaborate security requirements, investigators and witnesses said, but the comment that the pilot, Philippe Riviere, 51, is accused of making raised a red flag for the screeners, who are under orders to tolerate no threatening remarks, even those made in jest.

Riviere was taken into custody by the Port Authority police, searched and charged with falsely reporting a threat in the first and second degrees, which carry prison terms of seven and four years, respectively, said Patrick Clark, a spokesman for the Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown. Riviere was to be arraigned Saturday night in Criminal Court, in Queens.

"It's not very often that you find a co-pilot making such inappropriate comments," said Lauren Stover, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, the agency in charge of screening at the nation's major airports. "We have zero tolerance for those kinds of comments."

Shoes have been among the items most screened since the case of Richard Reid, the British citizen who was sentenced last January to life in prison for trying to ignite bombs hidden in the soles of his high-top sneakers on a flight from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22, 2001.

Riviere, the co-pilot of Air France Flight 009, scheduled to depart for Paris at 11pm on Friday, arrived about 9:30pm at the security checkpoint. There were differing accounts of what happened there.

"He balked at removing his shoes" for inspection, one investigator said, "and is alleged to have said, `I have a bomb in my shoe.'" Almost simultaneously, the investigator said, the metal detector sounded an alarm.

A passenger who witnessed the incident told NY1 News, however, that the pilot appeared to be making a joke. "Apparently one of the co-pilots got testy at the security and didn't like getting searched so much, and said, 'Well, what do you think, I have a bomb on me?'"

In any case, the screeners summoned airport police, and Riviere was searched, said Tony Ciavolella, speaking for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport.

In the meantime, Flight 009 was canceled, and the Boeing 747, was searched. No bomb was found.

Jim Faulkner, a spokesman for Air France, said he had no information on Riviere's record. He said the airline had not put up the passengers overnight. Many stayed at the airport and flew out about 10:30am on Saturday. "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience to our passengers," he said. "The most important thing for us was getting them safely to their destination."

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