A self-described peace activist responsible for the diversion of a London-to-Washington flight Wednesday acted bizarrely for hours, made references to al Qaeda and hijack training flights, and was restrained by two passengers after she urinated in the aisle.
Catherine C. Mayo, 59, a Vermont woman who also lives part time in Pakistan, was charged yesterday in federal court with interfering with a flight crew.
United Flight 923 was forced to make an emergency landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport under escort by two military jets.
“She’s got some very serious mental health problems,” said Page Kelley, Mrs. Mayo’s attorney, who described her client as “just barely lucid.”
According to an affidavit and passenger accounts, Mrs. Mayo began pacing the plane from the front to aft lavatory and asked a flight attendant, “Is this a training flight for United Flight 93?” — the flight hijacked on September 11, 2001, that crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field.
Mrs. Mayo demanded to speak with an air marshal, saying the contents of her bag would be of interest. Her bag contained a screwdriver, body lotion, several cigarette lighters and a bottle of water. The affidavit did not say how she smuggled the items on board, despite being screened twice at London’s Heathrow Airport.
When confronted by the captain, Mrs. Mayo made a reference to bomb assembly, saying, “There are six steps to building some unspecified thing.”
“She made reference to being with people associated with two words,” the affidavit said. “She stated that she could not say what the two words were because the last time that she had said the two words she had been kicked off a flight in the United Arab Emirates.”
The captain ordered her restrained, and the passengers and a flight attendant tackled her and placed her hands in plastic cuffs.
Officials in the United Kingdom and the U.S. are on heightened alert after dozens of British citizens were arrested last week, accused of plotting to smuggle liquid explosives aboard trans-Atlantic flights.
Mrs. Mayo told passengers she was an undercover reporter testing security to see whether she could sneak restricted items on board.
As a columnist for the Daily Times of Pakistan, Mrs. Mayo criticized President Bush — calling him “a president not elected by the people”— and the war in Iraq. “The folksongs of the 1960s will never be written again because of President George Bush. He has hampered the liberties of my country in the name of September 11. Songs now can only talk of patriotism they cannot mention peace,” she wrote.
Passengers initially assumed the men who restrained Mrs. Mayo were federal air marshals but yesterday said they were passengers recruited by flight attendants who provided them with handcuffs.
“They were asked to be on the alert in case we need you,” said Joan Bartko, a passenger who was traveling with her family.
Mrs. Mayo “took down her slacks and started taking down her underwear, and that’s when they got her. They were just passengers on the plane who immediately helped,” Mrs. Bartko said.