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Panicked US passenger forces landing

Published: 12:23PM Thursday August 17, 2006 Source: Reuters

A woman panicking from claustrophobia caused a Washington-bound flight from London to make an emergency landing in Boston on Wednesday, sparking a major security alert.

Police and other officials said there was no apparent terrorist threat, but the incident set off a major security response a week after British authorities said they had foiled a plot to blow up planes from London to the United States.

United Airlines flight 923, carrying 182 passengers and 12 crew, was escorted by fighter jets to Boston after crew members confronted a 59-year-old US woman who became unruly due to an apparent panic attack, officials said.
 
Nenette Day, a spokeswoman with the FBI in Boston, said the woman became disruptive on the flight and had to be forcibly restrained.

The woman was carrying hand cream and matches but was not a terrorist threat, said Christopher White, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman. Those items are not banned on commercial flights, he said.

"There are no known links to terrorism regarding this event at this time," said White.
 
One media report carried on CNN and major TV networks, and later denied, said the woman had Vaseline, a screwdriver, matches and a note on the Islamic militant group al Qaeda.

The FBI's Day said a search of her belongings produced no dangerous materials and no note from al Qaeda.

"Her carry-on bags subsequently were searched and matches were found in the bag as well as a gelatin-like substance but those items were not deemed to have any terrorist connection or or pose a threat to the aircraft," Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a news conference.

Screams, handcuffs

Passengers on the plane said the woman, dressed in a grey  hooded sweatshirt, was screaming on several trips to the toilet.

"They had her thrown to the ground and then handcuffed her and she was still saying loud things. Then they put her in the last row of seats between the two men," Joan Bartko, 59, said.

Passengers became aware that something was wrong as flight attendants raced to the front of the plane carrying the woman's large handbag, fighter jets appeared outside their windows and the plane lost altitude and changed course.

"I noticed the F-15s next to the plane and said 'Oh my God'," said Antony Nash, 31. "It was a harrowing two hours."

The US Attorney's office in Boston said the woman will be arraigned on Thursday on unspecified criminal charges.

Airline passengers have faced heightened security since last week, when British police arrested nearly two dozen suspects in the alleged plot to carry out multiple suicide bombings on transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives.

Television broadcasts showed Boston airport rescue workers surrounding the plane while dogs sniffed for explosives in luggage laid out in lines on the ground. At least half a dozen police vans and cars were on the tarmac.

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