Suspicious bathroom activity led to fighter jet escorts
A couple reportedly taking an unusually long time in an airplane restroom on one flight, and passengers making repeated trips to the restroom on another flight, appear to be the "suspicious" activities that triggered dramatic interceptions by fighter jets that shadowed the two planes until they landed safely.
The nation was on alert, and on edge, Sunday as it commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Tensions were heightened by reports that authorities were investigating potential new terrorist threats aimed at disrupting the day of national mourning.
Passengers and crew aboard one plane, an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York, became alarmed by three men who made repeated visits to the restroom. The concerns were enough to prompt authorities to send two F-16 military jets to shadow the aircraft until it landed safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 4:10 p.m.
The passengers who made the repeated pit stops were interviewed and then released after it was determined there was no danger, ABC News reported.
Also Sunday, a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Detroit was intercepted and followed by fighter jets until it landed safely. Three people were removed from the plane in handcuffs, according to the Detroit Free Press, and the Transportation Security Administration said the aircraft was searched for explosives.
There are conflicting reports about what raised alarms in this case.
Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said the crew reported two people spending "an extraordinarily long time" inside the restroom. FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser told The Times that an air marshal on board the flight secured the cockpit when the passengers refused to exit the bathroom.
But the Detroit News, in quoting a statement from the FBI, reported that it was all a misunderstanding: One passenger became ill, another went to check on him, and there was never more than one person inside the restroom at any time.
In all, at least five flights were disrupted in some manner Sunday because of suspicious activity, according to USA Today, but there have been no reports of related arrests.
-- Rene Lynch
Photo: Security forces surround passengers as they are escorted off a Frontier Airlines plane Sunday at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport following reports of suspicious activity on board. Credit: Joey Mentzer / Associated Press