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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Note-passing triggers US air alert
American Trans Air plane (second from left) after being escorted into LaGuardia
The American Trans Air flight was escorted by two F-16s
American fighter jets have escorted a commercial domestic flight into a New York airport after a passenger complained that several passengers - all Indian - were acting suspiciously.

The seven Indian passengers were reported to be passing notes to each other and changing seats, a Port Authority spokesman said.

The four men and three women were all released after being questioned by police.

They belonged to a well-known Indian performance group, and may have been rehearsing or discussing when they attracted attention, officials said.

Plane scares

The American Trans Air flight - with 98 passengers on board - was flying from Chicago to New York's LaGuardia airport when a passenger became alarmed by the Indian group's behaviour.

The passenger alerted a flight attendant who notified the pilot. The federal aviation authorities then sent two F-16 fighter jets to escort the plane.

Since the 11 September hijacker attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) has scrambled fighters or diverted them from other missions more than 400 times to assist civil aviation authorities.

In recent months, there have also been several security alerts caused by planes violating restricted airspace over the White House and Camp David, the US presidential retreat.

On one occasion last month, the White House was briefly evacuated after a mystery plane was spotted circling in the restricted airspace above the president's residence.

See also:

20 Jun 02 | Americas
03 Apr 02 | Americas
02 Jul 02 | Americas
05 Oct 01 | Europe
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