Officials: Trans-Atlantic flight diverted after man claims to have explosives in luggage

By Harry R. Weber, AP
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Source: Man cites explosives, jet diverts to Maine

BANGOR, Maine — The former Air Force member who was detained Tuesday on a trans-Atlantic flight after allegedly claiming he had explosives in his luggage and a fake passport lives a “squeaky clean” life and has never been in trouble before, his father told The Associated Press.

Richard Stansberry said government officials told him the man who was detained after the Paris-to-Atlanta flight was diverted to Maine is his son, 26-year-old Derek Stansberry of Riverview, Fla.

The father said government officials questioned him, but he was as perplexed as they were.

“My son’s profession in the military required he live a squeaky clean life,” Richard Stansberry said.

The father said his son served four years in the Air Force before leaving last year for a job in the private sector. He wouldn’t identify his son’s employer, but said the firm does work for the Air Force.

There were 235 passengers and 13 crew aboard Delta Air Lines Flight 273. The flight landed safely just after 3:30 p.m. at Bangor International Airport.

According to U.S. officials who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, the man claimed to have explosives in his luggage and a fake passport. They said his passport was authentic, and there were no explosives found on board the plane.

Federal officials met the aircraft at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration said the passenger was being interviewed by law enforcement.

In Washington, Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Linda Pepin said the man detained on the plane was a senior airman and worked as an intelligence specialist. She said he was on active duty from June 2005 to 2009 and was last stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Passengers interviewed Tuesday night said there were some tense moments but that everyone remained calm and there was no shouting or ruckus.

After the man was apprehended, flight attendants asked passengers in the back of the plane to move to empty seats in the front. They also collected passengers’ pillows and blankets, piling the cushions in the back of the plane.

“It was definitely surreal, something you only hear about,” according to Charde Houston, an all-star forward for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx who was on the flight.

It was not immediately clear what the significance was of the pillows being taken from passengers.

After the failed attack aboard a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day, for a period of time there were extra pat-downs before boarding flights, no getting up for the last hour of the flight and some passengers reported being told they couldn’t have items in their laps, including laptops and pillows.

“It was scary for three hours but we bonded and kept each other’s spirits high,” said Nancy Albertson of Charlottesville, Va. Passengers prayed together, as well, she said.

Eventually, the pilot explained the situation, said Adithya Sustry of Chicago.

“He basically came on about an hour after the drama started and said, There’s been a security threat and basically we think we have it under control. But we are going to land in Bangor. They did not get any more specific about what the security situation was,” Sustry said.

Houston, 24, said that when Tuesday’s flight landed, FBI agents boarded and helped remove the suspect, who was wearing handcuffs.

“He looked extremely calm, like a blank face. No emotion,” Houston said of the man who was removed.

Richard Stansberry, of Apollo Beach, Fla., said he has not yet been able to speak to his son.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think they’d let him call me,” the elder Stansberry said. “In a situation like this, the government is doing what it is supposed to do.”

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, did not launch any military fighters in response to the flight, spokesman John Cornelio said. “By the time we were brought into the equation,” the passenger was already under the control of air marshals, Cornelio said from Colorado.

All passengers were taken off the plane because it was an international flight and they needed to clear customs, said Rebecca Hupp, airport director.

Delta originally said the Airbus A330 would continue to Atlanta, but an announcement over the airport loudspeakers at 6:30 p.m. alerted passengers that they’d be spending the night in Bangor. The airline was arranging for transportation and lodging at a local hotel.

The airline said the passengers diverted are expected to leave Maine at 10:30 a.m Wednesday and arrive in Atlanta after 1 p.m.

The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights.

It’s the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights, and it’s 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.

Delta, based in Atlanta, is the world’s largest airline and has a joint venture with Air France-KLM on flights across the Atlantic.

Weber reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Anne Flaherty, Eileen Sullivan and Joan Lowy in Washington, David Sharp and Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and John Curran in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

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