San Francisco — A hijack threat halted an American Airlines flight just before takeoff Thursday, leaving the New York-bound jet sitting on the tarmac for several hours while it was searched and passengers were removed for extra scrutiny.
The FBI later determined that the telephoned threat wasn’t credible, but in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and a series of airline scares in the past year, the incident still rattled nerves as it played out live on national TV.
Police were investigating who called in the hijacking threat and what their motivation might have been.
Although passengers described the scene aboard the Boeing 767 headed to John F. Kennedy International Airport as calm, witnesses said a man and a woman sitting in the back row were taken off in handcuffs. But they were quickly released and allowed to rebook their flights.
The couple confirmed to an Associated Press reporter that they were the ones who had been removed from the plane but declined to identify themselves. They said authorities explained they were picked at random for questioning.
But a fellow passenger suggested the couple may have been targeted because of their appearance. Michael Anderson, 20, saw the couple at the American Airlines ticket counter after all the passengers were let off the detained plane and observed them carrying passports from Pakistan.
“It definitely seems like it was racial profiling, based on what they look like physically and the fact they are Pakistani. It seems like this was a false accusation,” said Anderson, a Yale University sophomore who was heading back to school.