Police arrested 6 Syrians and a Cuban in Panama after the crew on their flight from Cuba alerted authorities to suspicious behavior. But an aviation official quickly denied police reports that the Syrians tried to open the cockpit door.
"This is not a hijacking," said Victor de la Hoz, spokesman for the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority.
Panama's National Police director, Rolando Mirones, said earlier that the passengers approached the cockpit "apparently with the intention of opening a door." The country's national Judicial Police received the same report.
But de la Hoz said the Copa Airlines crew simply notified authorities on the ground that a knife was missing after they served breakfast in the first-class cabin, where the Syrians and the Cuban were sitting. He did not say whether the men, who were traveling together, were suspected of taking the knife.
Mirones said the suspects "did not commit any violent acts inside the airplane, but they raised suspicions," adding: "That is why we are investigating."
Judicial Police Director Jose Ayu Prado said the Syrian passengers, ages 17 to 30, were headed for Haiti and Jamaica after a layover in Panama.
The Cuban passenger was en route to Argentina, the aviation authority said in a statement.
The passengers, whose names were not released, were being held at Panama City's international airport, he said. The plane landed safely shortly before noon.
Like many commercial airlines, Panama's Copa ordered cockpit doors locked on commercial jetliners after the Sept. 11, 2001, airplane attacks in the United States.