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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Fighters scrambled in US jet alert
Two F16s over Los Angeles
Aviation authorities are taking no chances with security
Two F16 fighter jets have escorted an Air Canada flight back to Los Angeles after a passenger created a disturbance on board.

In a clear demonstration of heightened security since the suicide attacks on Washington and New York, the fighters were scrambled when a passenger on Air Canada flight 792 was caught smoking in a toilet and made an "anti-American threat".

The incident happened as President George Bush said he would be willing to shoot a passenger airliner down if another attempt was made to hijack it and target an American city.

George W Bush
George W Bush is urging Americans to return to the skies
About 145 people were on board the Boeing 767 from Los Angeles to Toronto.

According to an airline spokesman, the passenger became abusive after being caught smoking about an hour into the flight, and was subdued by the crew.

Following airline procedure, the captain decided to return to Los Angeles.

But this time, two F16 fighters escorted the aircraft.

Passengers disembarked safely and airport police and FBI agents arrested the suspect.

The passengers were taken to a special holding room where they were questioned and their luggage searched, before being booked on to a later flight.

Fighters on standby

The airline spokesman conceded that the 11 September hijackings had some bearing on the way the incident was handled.

The governor of California, Gray Davis, who was visiting the airport to inspect new security measures, witnessed the drama.

More than 100 fighter jets are now on standby to intercept planes in US airspace.

President George Bush is urging Americans to return to the skies and has unveiled measures to improve security on domestic aircraft.

Improvements include more plain-clothed air marshals on flights and research into new technology which would enable ground staff to land aeroplanes.

Should these measures fail, two Air Force generals have been authorised to shoot down any civilian airliner without clearance from above if the aircraft appears to be threatening US cities.

Industry hits slump

Pentagon officials are playing down the risk of mistakes being made as a result of the new security measures.

The airline industry has been in a major slump since the suicide hijackings.

Mr Bush said $500m would be set aside for aircraft modifications to make access to cockpits more difficult.

He also said that the National Guard would be posted at commercial airports around the US.

See also:

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