Airliner returns to LA under F-16 escort after passenger incident

By Erica Werner Associated Press Writer
Friday September 28, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A passenger allegedly uttered an anti-American threat after he was caught smoking aboard an airliner, forcing the Air Canada jet to return to Los Angeles International Airport under escort by Air Force fighters Thursday. 

The FBI identified the passenger as Javid Naghani, an Iranian citizen in the United States legally. He was in custody Thursday evening, said FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin, and was expected to appear before a federal magistrate sometime Friday. He was not immediately charged with a crime. 

Authorities would not describe the threat. 

“Shortly after departure a male passenger was apprehended smoking in the lavatory,” said Nicole Couture-Simard, spokeswoman for Air Canada in Montreal. “The passenger became verbally abusive and uttered an anti-American threat.” 

The confrontation aboard Air Canada Flight 792 to Toronto was resolved without further incident, and the plane landed safely less than an hour after takeoff, authorities said. 

Naghani was traveling on the Boeing 767 with a woman. She was also questioned but was not arrested, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley. 

A third man was questioned as a material witness, said Nancy Castles, an airport spokeswoman. 

Couture-Simard said it was not necessary to restrain the passenger and the plane’s crew had control of the situation at all times. 

“There was no physical aggression. In-flight crew handled the situation professionally. The pilot elected to return to Los Angeles as a precautionary measure only,” she said. 

There were 145 people on the plane, including a crew of seven, Castles said. The jet took off at 12:47 p.m. and returned to the airport at 1:39 p.m. Passengers were taken to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and rebooked on a flight scheduled to leave at 11:45 p.m. 

Two F-16s escorted the Air Canada flight into the airport. Castles said the jets were likely responding to a Federal Aviation Administration request after the pilot of the 767 described the situation to the FAA. 

The Pentagon recently confirmed that two Air Force generals have been authorized to order the military to shoot down any civilian airliner that appears to be threatening U.S. cities. 

The incident occurred as Gov. Gray Davis was traveling to an airport press conference by shuttle bus from a remote parking lot where all passengers who arrive by car must park. Private vehicles have been banned from roads serving terminals. 

“We were about five minutes out of Lot C when those two jets buzzed the airport, so we knew something was up,” said Davis, who announced a call-up of National Guard troops to bolster security, then took a flight to San Francisco to demonstrate confidence in air travel.