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Flight forced to land; explosives in shoes suspected

FAA had issued warning about terrorists, footwear

Authorities escort a man, rear, that they believe may have tried to ignite explosives in his shoes during a transatlantic flight Saturday.  

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A commercial flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, made an emergency landing in Boston on Saturday after a passenger attempted to light what may have been some sort of explosive in his shoes, authorities said.

The incident on American Airlines flight 63 began around 11 a.m. EST, officials said. The plane was more than two hours from Boston when the incident occurred, an airlines spokesman told The Associated Press.

"We're told the flight attendants became alerted to a smell of sulfur, which is a match, and immediately took action when they saw what this individual was attempting to do, and literally tackled the individual and got into a wrestling match in attempt to subdue and stop this action, and apparently were successful in doing that, thankfully," said Tom Kinton, aviation director of Logan International Airport.

During the struggle, "he said he was 'wired,'" said Kinton.

'He tried to light up his matches to put his own shoe on fire and explode," said Thierry Dugeon, a French passenger. A flight attendant screamed for help and the nearest passengers grabbed him and put him under control.

"He was struggling," Dugeon said. "He was real powerful, but there were five or six of us."

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After passengers and flight attendants subdued the man, two doctors on board sedated him, Kinton said. He was then strapped to a chair with belts.

During the melee, two flight attendants were injured -- one of them bitten by the man -- said a spokeswoman for Massport, the organization that operates the airport. The flight attendant was taken to a hospital, she said.

Alerted by the pilot, the North American Aerospace Defense Command dispatched two F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air Force base in Massachusetts, which escorted it to Logan, a NORAD spokesman said. The F-15s intercepted the commercial jetliner "as soon as it hit American airspace," an official said.

The Boeing 767, carrying 185 passengers and 12 crew members, landed safely at Logan at 12:50 p.m. EST. It was moved to a remote area of the runway. The man was detained by police.

"FBI Boston has one person in custody at this time for interference with a flight crew," said FBI spokeswoman Kimberly McAllister. FBI agents, Federal Aviation Administration officials and police from Massport are investigating the incident.

The man, about 28, was carrying a British passport that appeared to have been issued about three weeks ago in Belgium in the name of Richard Reid, Kinton said. "The passport of the individual was checked and appears to have several problems with it," he said.

Another official said the passport appeared "bogus" and that the man appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.

The man was traveling alone and without checked luggage, Kinton said. Federal officials said he did have a carry-on bag. Once he was removed from the airplane, his shoes were X-rayed aboard the plane by a bomb squad.

"It appears that the shoes did contain det [detonation] cord and some improvised explosives, C-4 in nature," Kinton said. "If this indeed is an improvised explosive, there is certainly enough there to do damage to an aircraft in flight."

The explosive C-4 was used by terrorists in the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 U.S. service members were killed. Normally, the explosive is detonated by some kind of blasting cap, but one security expert said it could explode if a detonator was heated.

Federal authorities had not confirmed the presence of explosives Saturday evening.

flight 63
American Airlines flight 63 on the ground at Logan International Airport in Boston on Saturday  

The shoes were taken to a lab for further analysis by the FBI, said Kinton, who praised the actions of passengers and crew. "We obviously had actions that aircraft that prevented something from occurring," he said.

Authorities continued combing the aircraft Saturday evening for any other suspicious devices, Kinton said.

Passengers were detained for questioning, but there was no disruption of any other flights or operations at the airport, a Massport spokeswoman said. However, security officials have begun conducting random checks of passengers' shoes.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a civil aviation security bulletin warning that the U.S. government had received information "that suggests the possibility of terrorist hijackings of airliners from either the U.S. or Europe."

Thierry Dugeon, flight 63 passenger, says he helped to subdue a man the FBI suspects may have had explosives in his shoes.  

"We are concerned that hijackers may attempt to smuggle disassembled weapons on board an airliner by hiding weapon components within their shoes," read the December 11 advisory, which was distributed to airlines and airline security.

A senior administration official said that the White House has been monitoring the situation and has notified President Bush, who is spending the holiday weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

--CNN Correspondents Kelly Wallace, Bill Delaney, Jeff Levine and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.


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