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Passenger's suspicious note diverts jet to Maine

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | 7:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BANGOR, Maine — A US Airways jet traveling from Paris to North Carolina was diverted to Maine on Tuesday after a French passenger handed a note to a flight attendant mentioning that she had a surgically implanted device, raising fears of a terror scenario that security officials had warned about.

There is no evidence the plane was ever in danger, officials said. An examination by two doctors aboard the plane found that the passenger, a French citizen born in Cameroon, had no scars or incisions, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was briefed by Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole.

The FBI and Homeland Security Department warned airlines last summer that terrorists are considering surgically hiding bombs inside humans to evade airport security.

"We have seen intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel," said Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.

Two F-15 fighters scrambled to escort Flight 787 with 179 passengers and nine crew members to Bangor International Airport, where it landed shortly after noon Tuesday.

Tony Caruso, acting airport manager, told reporters that the "unruly" passenger was removed after the jet taxied to a remote part of the airport.

The jetliner was about 40 minutes from Bangor when local officials were alerted, Caruso said. The remaining passengers aboard the Boeing 767 were kept in a secure area in the airport before being allowed back onto the jet, which departed 3 1/2 hours later for Charlotte, N.C.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who was briefed on the matter, said the woman who was detained was traveling alone without any checked baggage and intended to stay in the U.S. for 10 days.

The FBI, which is conducting the investigation, interviewed passengers before the plane departed.

"At this time, there is no evidence that the plane or its passengers were ever in any actual danger," said Greg Comcowich, an FBI spokesman in Boston.

The TSA issued a statement saying the passenger exhibited suspicious behavior that warranted the unscheduled stop.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the flight was diverted to (Bangor) where it was met by law enforcement," said TSA spokesman Sterling Payne.

The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights.

It's 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.

Home to a Maine Air National Guard unit, the airport also serves as a refueling hub for military aircraft transporting personnel and cargo to and from Europe and the Middle East.


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