Two Air France flights from the U.S. to Paris were diverted mid-flight as a result of bomb threats that came just days after Islamist terrorist attacks killed 129 people in the French capital.
Flight 65, an Airbus A380 jumbo jet, was diverted in its flight from Los Angeles to Charles de Gaulle Airport “because of a security incident,” Allen Kenitzer of the FAA told CNN on Tuesday evening.
It landed on the ground in Salt Lake City, Utah, at 9:15 p.m. EST and, according to an FBI statement, security protocols were under way on the plane and investigators were trying to track the source of the threat.
Also Tuesday night, another Air France flight to Paris — Flight 55 from Washington Dulles International Airport — was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, also officially the result of a “security incident.”
But CNN reported, citing an unnamed government source, that both incidents were bomb threats, with at least the Los Angeles flight having been the result of a communication with Air France.
While CNN said such threats aren’t especially unusual, these threats were taken seriously because they came a week after Islamic State-inspired gunmen went on a rampage through Paris and a few weeks after the group said it blew up a Russian jet over Egypt.
Air France said the Washington departure, a Boeing 777, landed safely in Halifax at 9:27 p.m. EDT, just minutes after Flight 65 landed in Salt Lake City.
A passenger named “Yianni” told CNN that the 298 people on board were only told the diversion was security-related, though the presence of light-flashing cop cars and ambulances and of bomb-sniffing dogs going through the plane made it clear what was going on.
Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general at the Transportation Department, told the network that terrorists might make bomb threats simply for the effect of the threat, with an actual bomb never being in play.
“You can cause an awful lot of damage to Air France” simply by damaging its reputation with fake bomb threats, she said. These incidents could be someone “trying to disrupt Air France or disrupt travel to and from the U.S.”
Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst, agreed, saying that two bomb threats against the same airline on the same night “smells of a hoax,” albeit one that could have a major economic impact.