NEW YORK (AP) – Fears of a security breach caused a flight from Los Angeles to London to be diverted to New York early Thursday, but after searching the plane and re-screening its 230 passengers officials said they found nothing suspicious.
A flight attendant on the American Airlines plane became concerned that a passenger might not have gone through proper security screening before boarding the Heathrow Airport-bound flight at Los Angeles International Airport, said airline spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon.
The flight attendant had seen the male passenger ride to the terminal on an employee bus and bypass security, as employees are able to do, Whitemon said. After talking to the passenger, flight crew members decided they needed to divert the plane, she said.
Authorities questioned the man at New York’s Kennedy International Airport and determined he was not a threat, according to Christopher White of the Transportation Security Administration.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told CNN on Thursday that the passenger may have been an airline worker traveling for pleasure.
But White said later, “He was a regular passenger with a verified boarding pass, not an employee.
There’s nothing to indicate that he used employee transportation.”
The flight was later canceled because the unplanned stop ended up exhausting the crew’s allowed flight time, and passengers were transferred to other flights, Whitemon said.
Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines in Fort Worth, said the airline was interviewing the flight attendant to determine how she came to suspect that the man had skirted security or posed as an employee.
“We do fully support our crews on any security concern,” Smith said. “We would always take the conservative route and get the incident or concern in front of the law enforcement people who are best equipped to handle it.”
The flight scare came amid renewed anxieties about potential terrorist attacks. Chertoff said this week he had a “gut feeling” that the United States faced a heightened risk of attack this summer.
Numerous government officials have said they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack on U.S. soil.