BANGOR – The man who was handcuffed and removed from a trans-Atlantic flight diverted to Bangor International Airport on Friday frequently left his seat and wore a shiny purple shirt but made no threatening gestures, passengers said.
American Airlines Flight 55, a Boeing 767, was en route from Manchester, England, to Chicago when it was diverted to BIA, landing shortly before 1 p.m.
The flight was carrying 167 passengers and 12 crew members, the airline said.
Nobody was injured, and by 7 p.m. passengers were in line to be rescreened before continuing to their destination. BIA director Rebecca Hupp said an American Airlines crew was being flown from Boston to resume the flight.
Federal officials offered few specifics Friday night. FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz said, “It’s still an ongoing matter.”
She said nobody had been charged.
CBS News reported that British authorities had alerted U.S. authorities that one of the passengers might be on a terror watch list.
In interviews, passengers said a military jet flew past the Boeing 767 after they were told six hours into the flight that the aircraft was being diverted because a crew member was ill. The FBI’s Marcinkiewicz said she was not able to confirm reports of the military escort.
The pilot announced that the plane was too heavy to land and he would therefore have to take measures to burn more fuel before it touched down, passengers said.
“About that time an F-16 went blowing by us,” said Tom Roseberry, 23, of Seattle.
Upon landing at BIA a few minutes before 1 p.m., the jet taxied to a ramp at the Maine Air National Guard base, where passengers were removed and taken to a secured lounge, where they were interviewed by the FBI and shown pictures of the man.
Passengers said later that the man at the center of the incident appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent and had a mustache and wore a purple or purple-striped shirt.
Several said they saw the man being handcuffed over the hood of a Bangor police cruiser on the tarmac. He was told to remove his shoes, and the shoes remained on the tarmac after he was taken away.
The man behaved normally on the flight, but left his seat at least twice, according to passenger Amy Chignell, 28, of Radditch, England, who believes she was sitting next to the man.
Another passenger said the announcement that a crew member was ill occurred about two hours before they landed.
“That’s when he started to disappear more,” said Jeremy Turney, 27, of Bicester, England, who sat one row behind the man.
Fellow passengers presumed he was leaving his seat to use the restroom, but Turney noted that he was leaving when the aircraft’s seat belt warning light was on.
The plane landed on a remote taxiway at BIA and passengers were taken by bus to a holding area, said Hupp. State police provided bomb squad dogs, and local police provided additional assistance.
The flight was expected to continue to Chicago once the new crew was in place. The delay forced the current crew to work beyond their required hours, said American Airlines spokesman John Hotard.
The Bangor airport is a convenient place for international flights to touch down because of mechanical problems, unruly passengers or security threats.
Bangor is the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights, and it’s the last U.S. airport for outgoing flights, providing a safety net for aircraft with uncluttered skies and one of the longest runways on the East Coast.
The TSA said in a statement: “Given the current threat level, the agency, in conjunction with other federal authorities, took prudent action to assure the safety of the passengers and crew.”