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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Disturbance diverts London-DC flight

BOSTON - Fighter jets escorted a London-to-Washington, D.C., flight to Boston's Logan airport Wednesday after the pilot declared an emergency because an apparently claustrophobic passenger caused a disturbance, a federal official said.

The federal security official said there was no indication of terrorism and denied reports that the woman had a screw driver, matches and a note referring to al-Qaida.

The female passenger aboard United Flight 923 said she was claustrophobic and became very upset and got into some kind of confrontation with the flight crew, said George Naccara, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration for Massachusetts' airport.

The disturbance — coming just a week after authorities in London said they foiled a terror plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights — was enough to concern the pilot to issue an alert, which activated two fighter jets to escort the flight into Logan, Naccara said.

Naccara said he did not believe any items she was carrying were the cause of the outburst. An airport spokesman previously said the woman was carrying Vaseline, a screw driver and matches, but backed off the statement, and Naccara said it wasn't true.

"I don't know what she had on board with her, but we have been told she did not have a screw driver, she did not have any liquids such as vaseline, and any notebook she may have had, it did not contain an al-Qaida reference," Naccara said. "This is still playing out, of course."

"There was speculation in the beginning of all those items, but those have been proven untrue," he said. He said he had no information about matches.

The flight from London's Heathrow Airport to Washington's Dulles Airport had 182 passengers and 12 crew members, UAL Corp. spokesman Brandon Borrman said.

State Police and federal agencies took control of the plane after it landed.

Passengers were taken off the plane and loaded onto a bus, and Naccara said the passengers were being interviewed. Their luggage was spread out on the tarmac, where it was rechecked by security officials and trained dogs.

Since the foiled terror plot surfaced in London last week, airports have tightened security in both the United Kingdom and the U.S. Liquids and gels have been banned from carry-on luggage, and even tighter restrictions are in place in the U.K.
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