Passengers sensed something serious

Posted April 28, 2010, at 9:18 p.m.
Exhausted from her trip to Scotland and England, coupled with an 11-day delay due to the volcanic dust from Iceland, Rachel Watson, 10, of Vancouver, B.C., lies on the floor in front of the Delta ticket counter at Bangor International Airport on Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Watson's family was on board flight 273 from Paris to Atlanta, when it was diverted to Bangor on Tuesday due to a bomb threat by passenger Derek Stansberry of Riverview, Florida. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
Exhausted from her trip to Scotland and England, coupled with an 11-day delay due to the volcanic dust from Iceland, Rachel Watson, 10, of Vancouver, B.C., lies on the floor in front of the Delta ticket counter at Bangor International Airport on Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Watson's family was on board flight 273 from Paris to Atlanta, when it was diverted to Bangor on Tuesday due to a bomb threat by passenger Derek Stansberry of Riverview, Florida. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT

BANGOR, Maine — The way the flight attendant’s voice wavered as she announced that the Paris-to-Atlanta flight was about to hit some turbulence and that passengers should fasten their seat belts alerted many that something serious was happening, several passengers said Wednesday.

“She was almost crying,” said passenger Allan Laurendon as he and others awaited continuation of their flight after spending a night in Bangor. Laurendon lives in Paris but has a home in New York.

Delta Air Lines Flight 273 with 235 passengers and 13 crew members was diverted to Bangor International Airport on Tuesday afternoon when a passenger, Derek Stansberry, 26, of Riverview, Fla., claimed to have explosives aboard the plane as it neared the U.S. airspace. The flight landed safely in Bangor just after 3:30 p.m.

When Laurendon detected the emotion in the flight attendant’s voice, he said, his heart began to beat a little faster and he and others began to feel nervous.

“I [felt] something was up because two FBI guys got up” and went to the back of the plane, he said. “We knew it was serious business. People were scared, and everybody was looking around at each other.”

The “FBI guys” were actually federal air marshals who went to the back of the Airbus A330 to deal with the passenger, who said he had a fake passport and explosives.

They handcuffed Stansberry and moved passengers sitting in the back of the plane to empty seats up front. Flight attendants then collected pillows, blankets and seat cushions to pile around and on top of Standberry’s bag, apparently to lessen the effect of any explosion.

No explosives were found. Passengers, who were not released from customs until 9 p.m., stayed the night in Bangor-area hotels and departed about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Sitting near Laurendon was J. Alexander, also known as Miss J, a model and judge on Tyra Banks’ reality television show “America’s Next Top Model.” He said he was oblivious to any danger until men in tactical gear boarded the plane in Bangor and took the suspect off.

“He walked right by me and then it hit me that a serious thing had happened,” Alexander said in the airport terminal Wednesday while preparing to depart.

After the passengers departed the plane Tuesday, word spread quickly that Stansberry was a former U.S. Air Force senior airman and intelligence specialist.

Alexander said Wednesday that passengers, including himself, were wondering why the suspect acted up.

“I think it’s shell shock,” he said. “It’s that darn war.”

The way the airline handled the situation was commendable, said passenger Jamie Watson, who was flying with his wife, Audine, and two daughters, Rachel, 10, and Breanna, 12. The family from Vancouver, British Columbia, took the flight to return to North America after being delayed in France after last week’s volcanic eruption in Iceland closed airports across Europe.

His youngest daughter slept on the airport terminal floor Wednesday morning.

“We’re very happy with how they handled the situation,” Watson said. “You could barely even tell something was going on.”

Still, after the flight attendant made her emotional announcement, Watson’s elder daughter sensed something was wrong. “I just had a lot of questions,” Breanna Watson said.

About an hour or so after the initial announcement, the pilot explained that there was a security situation that was under control, but that as a precaution the plane would be landing at BIA.

Audine Watson said it was obvious that everyone on board was nervous, but everyone remained calm. She said she and her husband tried to keep their daughters calm.

“It’s better that we didn’t know,” Jamie Watson said.

Others, including Laurendon, agreed.

“If you know you are going to die, it’s scary,” he said. “People would have acted more crazy.”

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