- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

LINTHICUM, Md. Two military jets escorted a US Airways flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday after a "miscommunication," officials said.
The incident developed after a "miscommunication between the pilot and the ground," said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The problem developed shortly after Flight 1814 took off at 8:07 a.m. from Charlotte, N.C., for BWI, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for US Airways.
"There appeared to be some sort of miscommunication something that one of our pilots said," Mr. Castelveter said.
The US Airways spokesman declined to be more specific.
Maj. Ed Thomas of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the F-16 jets from Andrews Air Force Base were sent to intercept and escort the Airbus 319 to BWI.
The plane landed about 9:30 a.m. and was boarded by FBI agents, who talked to the crew of five and the 45 passengers, said FBI spokesman Barry Maddox.
The agents concluded there had been a false alarm, Mr. Maddox said.
Passengers said they were not aware of a problem until the plane landed and seemed to taxi longer than normal. After the plane stopped in an area away from the airport terminal, police cars surrounded the jet and the pilot told the passengers that the plane needed a security check, passengers said.
About 30 minutes later, the pilot told passengers there had been a miscommunication and the crew was trying to take care of it, said passenger Arthur Ramsey of Greenville, S.C., who was flying to Baltimore on a business trip.
"The pilot was really nervous. He didn't have a clue you could hear it in his voice," Mr. Ramsey said.
Mr. Maddox originally said a code indicating a problem on board was entered incorrectly into the plane's radar transponder, but the FBI spokesman later said the report was incorrect.
Passengers were released from the plane shortly after 11 a.m. They said the plane's crew gave them little information about the situation and they did not see the fighter jets.
Mr. Ramsey said FBI agents who boarded the plane went directly to the cockpit. Other agents and police officers appeared to be searching the baggage compartment.
"At first we were all kind of joking about it," Mr. Ramsey said. "But the more cop cars that showed up, we knew it was serious. A lot goes through your head in a situation like this because they weren't giving us a lot of information."
Fellow passenger Jill Lantz said that after the plane landed, it taxied to the back of the terminal.
"Seeing all the cops flipped me out," Miss Lantz said.
Maj. Thomas said the fighter planes are armed and "are prepared to engage with weapons as a last resort."
"When there is an air threat, the primary mission is to go up, intercept the aircraft and determine the intentions of that aircraft, then do everything possible to get that aircraft and its passengers safely on the ground," Maj. Thomas said.
Maj. Thomas said NORAD has had about 500 such requests for assistance since September 11, including intercepting the plane carrying Richard C. Reid, the man accused of attempting to ignite explosives in his shoes, and the teenager who flew a small plane into a Florida skyscraper.
"If there's any question, we're going to send a fighter up to check out that situation," Maj. Thomas said.
Passenger Ebony Gill, 18, of Baltimore, said she was thinking of the September 11 terrorist attacks as she waited for agents to clear the plane.
"It was terrifying," she said. "But we're safe, and I guess they were just taking the proper precautions, and I can't complain too much about that."


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