Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suspicious crew raises alarm and a flight is canceled

SAN DIEGO – The takeoff of an American Airlines flight out of Lindbergh Field was canceled in August because the crew was suspicious of several Middle Eastern passengers, an investigative report said. The crew notified the captain, who canceled the flight.

At the time, the airline said it was a woman traveling with her two small children who raised the alarm.

According to the airline's account of the incident, the woman said the men made her so nervous she asked to be let off the plane, and the ensuing delay pushed the Aug. 28 flight to Chicago past the 11:30 p.m. curfew on takeoffs.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner referred to it as a “customer dispute.”

But a report from the San Diego Harbor Police, which was released this week under the California Public Records Act, said members of the flight crew said they were nervous about a group of the Middle Eastern passengers and did not feel safe.

One flight attendant told investigators the behavior of the group made him nervous and was “making his hair stand on end.”

He said that one of the men went into the bathroom and when he came out he stood next to a woman and stared at her for three to four minutes. That passenger got off the plane.

The flight attendant also said that another man in the group began to stare at him in an “abnormal, unusual and intense” way. When he mentioned that to the other attendants, they each said they felt they were being stared at in the same fashion.

“It was like each of these (Arabic) passengers had their assigned attendant,” Kotsonis said.

Another flight attendant told investigators he had “a gut feeling and discomfort” and “needed to do something” after one of the men put a blanket on his head during the safety demonstration only to take it off and stare angrily at everyone around him.

After the passenger got off the plane, the crew talked among themselves and decided to notify the pilot about their concerns.

The pilot said in the report that this was the first time in 20 years of flying that a crew had indicated such feelings to him.

According to the report, the pilot said he had “complete trust in his crew and did not feel like they overreacted.”

It turned out that the group of seven Iraqi and Iraqi-American men worked for an Alaska-based defense contractor and had been training U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton. They have hired a lawyer.

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