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US Airways jet diverted to Bangor; passenger claimed to have surgically implanted device

Posted May 22, 2012, at 12:31 p.m.
Last modified May 23, 2012, at 1:40 p.m.

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Passengers aboard U.S. Airways Flight 787 de-plane on the tarmac at Bangor International Airport on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. A woman claiming to have an explosive device implanted in her body was removed from the plane and is being questioned by police.
Passengers aboard U.S. Airways Flight 787 de-plane on the tarmac at Bangor International Airport on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. A woman claiming to have an explosive device implanted in her body was removed from the plane and is being questioned by police. Buy Photo
Bangor police officers gather around a suitcase that was aboard the diverted U.S. Airways Flight 787 after a passenger claimed to have an explosive device implanted in her body.
Bangor police officers gather around a suitcase that was aboard the diverted U.S. Airways Flight 787 after a passenger claimed to have an explosive device implanted in her body. Buy Photo
Bangor police officers and federal officers gather on a portable jetway to US Airways Flight 787, which was diverted to Bangor International Airport after one of the 179 passengers claimed to have an explosive device implanted in her body.
Bangor police officers and federal officers gather on a portable jetway to US Airways Flight 787, which was diverted to Bangor International Airport after one of the 179 passengers claimed to have an explosive device implanted in her body. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — A flight en route from Paris to Charlotte, N.C., was diverted to Bangor International Airport on Tuesday after a female passenger announced she had a surgically implanted device, according to airport and federal officials.

The woman, a French citizen born in Cameroon, did not have any checked baggage, and there was no information that indicated she was a known or suspected terrorist, another official said.

“The passenger has been detained by the federal authorities,” said Tony Caruso, interim director at BIA.

US Airways Flight 787, a Boeing 767, was carrying 179 passengers and nine crew members from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to Charlotte, and the plane landed at BIA shortly after noon, Caruso said.

A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command said two F-15 fighters were scrambled to escort the plane to BIA.

The aircraft was met on the runway by law enforcement officials, according to airport marketing manager Risteen H. Bahr.

Just before 2 p.m., Caruso announced the plane had been deemed safe and that Cyr buses took the passengers from the aircraft to a secure area, where they were to wait before completing their trip to North Carolina.

“We certainly would love to reload the passengers and send them on their way to Charlotte to finish their journey, but we’re waiting to hear from authorities to make sure that we can reload the airplane,” Caruso said. “Right now they’re safe and secure.”

The passengers also were receiving food and beverages, according to Caruso.

“The passengers were relatively calm given the situation,” he said.

With the passenger in custody, the Boeing 767 was cleared several hours later to continue to its final destination in Charlotte.

The Bangor Police Department’s bomb squad was called to the scene, as per standard procedure when a flight is diverted for security measures, Caruso said.

Caruso said he could not confirm that the female suspect had an explosive device.

“At this point all we know is that the aircraft has been deemed safe,” said Caruso.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the passenger appeared to be mentally unstable and that she announced that she had a surgically implanted device.

The flight had departed Paris at 11:03 a.m. local time.

Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the FBI in Boston, said shortly after 1 p.m. that agents based in the Bangor office went to the airport to investigate a report of an unruly passenger. He said that was why the plane was diverted to Bangor.

Comcowich later added that he could not release the woman’s name because she has not been charged with any crimes yet. No one on the plane was in any danger, he said Tuesday afternoon.

The Transportation Security Administration said the flight was diverted “out of an abundance of caution.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said late Tuesday afternoon that TSA Administrator John Pistole “advised me that a female passenger passed a note to a flight attendant stating that she was carrying a surgically implanted device. Two doctors on board the plane examined the woman, but found no evidence of surgical scars or incisions. Fortunately, the aircraft landed safely in Bangor and the female passenger has been taken into custody by the FBI.

“We have seen intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel,” Collins added. “My understanding is TSA issued security directives recently to airports, airline carriers, TSA screeners, and foreign governments advising them to take added screening precautions and to be on the lookout for indicators of surgically implanted explosives.”

The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights.

It is the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights and the last U.S. airport for outgoing flights, with uncluttered skies and one of the longest runways on the East Coast. Aircraft use the airport when there are mechanical problems, medical emergencies or unruly passengers.

In 2010, a Paris-to-Atlanta flight was diverted to BIA. Last August, a federal judge in Bangor found that a former Air Force intelligence specialist, who had claimed to have explosives aboard the trans-Atlantic flight, had suffered from a brief psychotic break caused by a lack of sleep, dehydration, stress and body-building substances.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock found Derek Stansberry, 27, of Riverview, Fla., not guilty by reason of insanity on charges stemming from his actions aboard the April 27, 2010, flight.

BDN writers Nok-Noi Ricker and Judy Harrison and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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