Officials: Man on Sunday flight posed no threat
The same Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight that was attacked on Christmas Day saw another security scare Sunday after a confrontation with a sick passenger, officials said.
Security and airline personnel have been on edge since authorities charged a passenger from Nigeria with attempting to detonate a hidden explosive device while his flight from Amsterdam approached Detroit on Friday.
In the Sunday incident, the flight crew became concerned after the man — also Nigerian — became sick and spent about an hour locked in the bathroom, officials said.
“This raised concerns, so an alert was raised,” FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said. “The investigation shows that this was a nonserious incident and all is clear at this point.”
After the flight crew became concerned, the pilot of the Sunday flight had requested emergency assistance upon arrival, sending federal authorities scrambling to respond to a potential danger.
The Transportation Security Administration said the airline alerted authorities to a “disruptive passenger” on board Flight 253, who was taken into custody when the plane landed.
Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident, said the crew apparently acted out of an abundance of caution in alerting authorities.
Post-flight interviews by investigators determined the passenger was a legitimate businessman who posed no security threat to the plane, the two law enforcement officials said.
White House officials briefed President Obama on the incident, which generated multiple law-enforcement reports of a disruptive passenger aboard a Detroit-bound plane.
An apparent malfunction in a device designed to detonate the high explosive PETN may have been all that saved the 278 passengers and the crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. No undercover air marshal was on board, and passengers subdued the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, of Nigeria.
Mr. Abdulmutallab was hospitalized with burns from the attack and was read an indictment filed Saturday in federal court in Detroit charging him with attempting to destroy or wreck an aircraft and placing a destructive device in a plane. He was released from the hospital Sunday to the custody of federal marshals, who would not reveal where he was being held.
Mr. Abdulmutallab was on a watch list, but not one that denied him passage by air into the United States. His own father had discussed concerns about his radical religious views before the attack.
Still, in appearances on Sunday talk shows, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the traveling public “is very, very safe.”
“This was one individual literally of thousands that fly and thousands of flights every year,” Ms. Napolitano said, “and he was stopped before any damage could be done. I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have.”