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Diverted flight lands safely

Virgin Atlantic Flight 045 arrives Friday at Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Transportation Security Administration
Air transportation

(CNN) -- A Virgin Atlantic Airways flight from London to New York landed safely in New York late Friday afternoon after being escorted by Canadian F-18 fighter jets to Nova Scotia over what turned out to be a false alarm.

Flight 045, with 273 passengers and 16 crew onboard, was mid-flight when a hijack alert was transmitted.

Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman Brooke Lawer told CNN, "This was a false alarm. The transponder sent a false alert."

The airline said the technical issues have been resolved.

An official with the British Aviation Authority also said it seemed the signal was sent out due to a mechanical error.

Because the flight's scheduled path put it over Canadian airspace, the plane was diverted to Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia, U.S. transportation officials said. It was considered the closest airport with a runway large enough to handle the Airbus A340-600.

The fighter jet escort is standard procedure when a hijack alert is sounded, said Halifax International Airport spokeswoman Gina Connell. The jets did not land in Halifax. They continued to a nearby air force base, she said.

A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said its emergency response team members searched the plane before turning it back to the airport authority.

"We didn't find anything that was suspicious," said Constable Joe Taplin.

The plane was grounded in Halifax for about four hours before continuing its final leg to New York.

Officials in the United States and Britain praised security agencies' rapid responses to the incident, saying the false alarm was determined quickly after the alert signal was first sent.

Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security , said officials with DHS, North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Department of Transportation, the White House and Canadian government offices were on the phone about the incident about 9 a.m., two hours before the flight landed. It was not clear exactly when the hijack alert first sounded.

Roehrkasse called the communication "very well coordinated."

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