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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Fighters scrambled in BA jet alert
Heathrow airport
The jet landed safely at Heathrow airport
RAF fighter jets were scrambled after a security alert on a British Airways plane sparked by an overheard conversation.

The incident happened on Thursday morning, when a passenger on a Boeing 767 from Baltimore, USA overheard two other passengers apparently talking about hijacking.

After cabin crew were informed, the captain of the plane alerted air traffic control officials at about 0900 BST.

The RAF Tornado F3 fighter aircraft were then scrambled but did not escort the plane to the runway.

False alarm

The plane landed safely at Heathrow airport where it was boarded by police.

The two men - both United States citizens travelling in economy class - were removed from the aircraft and questioned by Metropolitan police detectives.

They were believed to have been overheard making references to a possible hijacking.

The incident was found to be a false alarm and officers were satisfied no offences had been committed.

There were no arrests.


If you picked the two most likely looking terrorists on the plane, you would have picked them

American passenger

A BA spokesman said: "Passengers would not have been aware of what was going on until the plane was on the ground.

"The captain then told them the police were coming on board to talk to the two passengers concerned.

"Passengers remained calm throughout."

It is only the second time military fighters have been scrambled in such circumstances since the terror attacks on New York and Washington last year.

As well as the launch of Tornado jets, contingency measures were triggered at the airport and emergency vehicles were on standby.

Machine guns

Passengers said the two suspects were taken off the plane at gunpoint.

One American businessman said four police officers, armed with machine guns and hand guns, boarded the plane.

The team ordered the men off.

The man said he became suspicious when the two men, who were seated at opposite ends of the plane, swapped places when they boarded.

One was described as in his early 50s and dishevelled looking, the other was in his 20s with long sideburns and wearing a bead bracelet.

Another American passenger said: "If you picked the two most likely looking terrorists on the plane, you would have picked them.

"They stood out. They weren't businessmen or women."

He added: "We were terrified. We just didn't know what was going on."


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See also:

17 Jul 02 | Americas
16 Oct 01 | Scotland
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