Fri, Aug 18, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UA flight diversion not terror related

ANXIOUS HOURS Passengers on UA923 said they were unnerved by the disturbance -- and by the sight of the two US fighter jets deployed to escort the plane to Boston

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

A Massachusetts State trooper directs a group of passengers from United Airlines Flight 923 to the security checkpoint at Terminal C at Logan International Airport on Wednesday after their London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Boston because an apparently claustrophobic passenger caused a disturbance.

PHOTO: AP

A United Airlines (UA) flight from London to Washington was diverted and escorted by two US F-15 fighters to Logan Airport in Boston on Wednesday morning after an unruly female passenger had to be subdued, officials said.

Officials said the incident was not terrorism related. The woman, a 59-year-old American citizen, told authorities she felt claustrophobic on the plane. She was detained shortly after the plane landed about 10:30am and was being held overnight.

"We anticipate charges of interference with a flight crew," said Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI.

The incident came less than a week after British officials announced they had broken up a plot to detonate liquid explosives on trans-Atlantic flights, prompting new restrictions on carry-on luggage and heightened alerts regarding travel to the US from Britain.

The flight, UA923, was headed to Dulles International Airport from London Heathrow Airport with 182 passengers and 12 crew members.

A United spokesman said an "altercation" between the passenger and a crew member led to an emergency being declared by the pilot about a half-hour from Boston.

"Any time there is an anomaly during a flight, the pilot is in communication with authorities and has the discretion to land the plane," a statement from the Transportation Security Administration said.

Passengers said the woman was unruly for much of the flight, refusing to sit down, pacing through the plane, repeatedly trying to get into the bathroom and mumbling incoherently about coins in her pockets, bottled water and claustrophobia.

"I knew pretty shortly, even before we took off, that she was claustrophobic," said Carolyn Brown, 54, of Grafton, Illinois, who was seated next to the woman in seat 15B. "She wanted to stand up and do things, but they wanted her to sit down, and it just escalated."

Brown said the woman became more agitated and anxious as the flight progressed, and kept leaving her seat.

The woman insisted on doing stretching to relieve her claustrophobia, which consisted of placing her hands on the overhead compartments, Brown said. Flight attendants insisted the woman sit down and, when she refused, told Brown to move to first class.

"She wanted to stand in whatever position to ease her anxiety," Brown said. "I think she was just an irrational person."

Officials said they do not know if the woman was on medication or whether she had any psychiatric problems.

Martin Drinkwater, a passenger from London who was bound for Florida, said he saw flight attendants try to discourage the woman from entering the bathroom.

"All of a sudden, she started mouthing obscenities and pulled down her trousers," he said, saying the woman threatened to go to the bathroom on the floor.

At that point, he said, two male passengers subdued her, and a flight attendant handcuffed her and put her in the last row of the aircraft.

"It was a harrowing two hours," said Antony Nash, 31, who was on his way home to San Diego and was seated near the woman.

"I noticed F-15s next to the plane. I said, `Oh my God.' And then we saw the emergency vehicles" waiting on the tarmac, he said.

State police and US federal agencies took control of the plane after it landed.

Passengers were taken off the plane, put on a bus and taken to a terminal to be interviewed. Their luggage was spread out on the tarmac, where it was rechecked by security officials and trained dogs.

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