A flight from Los Angeles to London was diverted to New York early Thursday because of what officials said may have been unfounded fears of a security breach.
A flight attendant on the American Airlines plane became concerned that a passenger might not have gone through proper security screening before boarding the Heathrow Airport-bound flight at Los Angeles International Airport, said airline spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon.
The flight attendant had seen the male passenger ride to the terminal on an employee bus and bypass security, as employees are able to do, Whitemon said.
After talking to the passenger, flight crew members decided they needed to divert the plane to New York's Kennedy Airport to search the cabin and re-screen the 230 passengers, in keeping with standard security procedures, she said.
Authorities were questioning the passenger Thursday morning at JFK, officials said.
The scare came on the heels of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's comment earlier this week that he had a "gut feeling" the United States faced a heightened risk of attack this summer. A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts said al-Qaida had restored its operating capabilities to a level unseen since shortly before the 2001 attacks.
Chertoff told CNN on Thursday that the airplane incident may have been a miscue.
"The individual in question was, in fact, an employee who was traveling in a private capacity," Chertoff told CNN, saying he had gotten information from airline representatives. "It may very well turn out that this is nothing more than a misunderstanding with an employee."
Whitemon said she could not confirm whether the passenger was an airline employee.
The plane landed in New York at about 3:30 a.m. (0730 GMT), said Alan Hicks, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. He said the agency was told about an hour earlier that Flight 136 was being diverted.
The flight was later canceled because the unplanned stop ended up exhausting the crew's allowed flight time, Whitemon said. She said the passengers were being transferred to other flights.
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