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American Airlines Flight Diverted to Boston When Passenger Tried to Ignite Explosives Hidden in His Shoe

Aired December 22, 2001 - 20:00   ET



CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Carol Lin in Atlanta. We've had some breaking news today. A man trying to set his shoes on fire on an international flight on American Airlines. That flight was diverted to Logan International Airport, escorted by a couple of F-15 fighter jets.

Our CNN Bill Delaney is standing by at Logan International Airport with more details on today's story -- Bill.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, anyone who might have been tempted to let their guard down a bit this holiday season after the difficult past few months, well a disturbing incident that ended here at Logan Airport this afternoon.

American flight 63, a 767 flying from Paris, supposed to fly from Paris to Miami, wound up here because of a passenger with C4 explosive, or something like it, in his shoes.

Now, what apparently happened, a flight attendant smelled a sulphury smell on this plane carrying some 185 passengers and 12 crew. She went down to row 29, asked the passenger what was going on. The passenger said, "I'm wired."

We're not sure what the exact sequence of events was after that was. What we do know is that passengers and flight attendants over- powered the man. Two flight attendants hurt in that melee, one of them bitten by the man. Two doctors on board the plane actually shot the man full of sedatives.

Now, the man described as 6-foot-4 tall, carrying a British passport with the name Richard Reid, a passport apparently issued in Belgium just three weeks ago. One passenger reportedly has said that the man did appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. We don't want to make too much of that just yet because we don't have any more information on precisely who this man is, although immigration authorities are looking into the authenticity of the passport.

Now, the man is being held about 200 yards from where I am at a police barracks near terminal E, which is behind me here, at Boston's Logan Airport.

Now, earlier, airport official Thomas Kinton had this to say about the incident here at Logan today.


TOM KINTON, LOGAN AIRPORT AVIATION DIRECTOR: Once again, once the passengers were removed safely, the bomb team from the FBI and state police boarded the aircraft. We did an X-ray of the shoes on board and the shoes did -- both shoes appeared to have wires and other things contained in them.

At this point, we then set up a removal by the bomb team of these shoes and isolated them on the airfield and disrupted them, as per procedure. At this time, it appears that the shoes did contain det cord, and some form of improvised explosives, C4 in nature. We're not sure. We can't be 100 percent certain of that. The shoes are being analyzed by the FBI at this point in time, they're being taken to a lab for further analysis.


DELANEY: Now, how much damage can C4 do? It can do a tremendous amount of damage. C4 is what blew up the Khobar Towers in Tehran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 servicemen and women in June of 1996.

On the other hand, the man on the plane, flight 63, that American Airlines flight, was apparently trying to ignite the C4 in his shoes with a match. Now, you can't do that. You need a blasting cap of some kind, an electric blasting cap or some sort of a detonator, not clear to us whether, despite the fact that wires were apparently trailing from his shoes, he could have actually ignited this very explosive stuff.

Now, as for the passengers on this flight who were headed to Miami, they're still in Boston. We're not sure whether they'll fly on tonight or tomorrow or when exactly they will leave Boston to get to a much warmer place where they were headed in this holiday season, Miami. Back to you.

LIN: Bill, I'm wondering, how do they know that the substance inside the shoe is actually an explosive substance? How sure are they and where was it? Was it locked inside the sole or inside the shoe itself?

DELANEY: It was apparently inside the shoe itself. Now, C4 is an explosive that typically comes in a brick form. This passenger apparently managed to get some of the substance into his shoe.

Why do we know it was explosive? Well, Thomas Kinton, the airport official we just heard from, says they disrupted the explosive. Now, that's a technical term, presumably meaning they exploded the explosive, although we're not crystal clear just what that disrupted term means. But it seems they took it off somewhere here at the airport and blew it up.

Certainly, airport officials are quite persuaded that this was either C4 or a C4-like explosive substance. Back to you. LIN: All right. Thank you very much. Bill Delaney reporting live from Boston's Logan International Airport, where that flight, American flight 63, was diverted.

Now, it appears that the FAA may have actually issued some sort of directive that may have actually hinted that something like this could have happened.

Kelly Wallace is watching events at the White House. I know President Bush is monitoring events very closely. But, Kelly, first, if we could start with this FAA directive; what did it say and what did it warn of?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol. It was a -- I should tell you, it's called a Civil Aviation Security Information Circular. And they're lots of different things that come from the FAA and the Department of Transportation, and this was issued to airlines and to airline personnel. It said that the U.S. government had received additional information dated December 3 suggesting the possibility of terrorist hijackings, either in the U.S. or Europe.

The significance of mentioning this here, the alert also included a warning, really, to all personnel to be on the look out for any potential terrorist suspects for putting materials in their shoes. The warning went on to say that "we are concerned that hijackers may attempt to smuggle disassembled weapons on board an airlines by hiding weapon components within their shoes, " that this "method of weapon concealment has been demonstrated in the past."

Now, again, this alert went out of a possible concern of something going on during Ramadan, which ended approximately December 17th, and throughout the holiday travel season. Again, though, we are mentioning this, Carol; no word to connect the two here, the situation in Boston with this alert. But, clearly, airlines and airline personnel were on the look out of concerns of possible hijackings and concerns of possible individuals trying to conceal weapons in their shoes, Carol.

LIN: Kelly, so, what specifically -- I don't know if the FAA circular here said it, but what specifically were they telling airlines other than just to be alert for the possibility? What were the airlines supposed to actually do?

WALLACE: Well, I'm not clear that there's any actual directions of what to do other than to be on alert, to -- I mean, obviously, the flight attendants, all personnel, have certainly been on extra state of alert following the September 11th terrorist attacks. And obviously, definitely instituting their own measures per the airlines and per the FAA.

My understanding that this going out to put airlines on alert, to give them this information. And then, of course, airline officials to use this accordingly to assess the threat. And, Carol, one other really important information we want to convey: federal officials here in Washington still telling us, Carol, that the FBI is still trying to determine if in fact the individual, the materials, excuse me, in the individual's shoes were in fact explosives.

One senior administration official we have talked to said there's still no conclusion, at least that has been brought to the officials attention, that the FBI is still trying to assess if in fact explosives were in the individual's shoes, Carol.

LIN: Right. Those shoes being analyzed at an FBI lab, and so far the only person whose actually talked about explosives being inside those shoes was the aviation director at Logan International, and I have no idea how much he knows about explosives, but certainly they're investigating there.

So, what is President Bush's reaction to this today?

WALLACE: Well, no reaction. We certainly know, Carol, he was notified earlier Saturday and then following that notification he also was briefed on the situation. He is certainly monitoring developments, the White House saying that it has been monitoring the situation since late morning, according to a senior U.S. official, when the White House became aware of this.

You know, of course, Tom Ridge is the director of Homeland Security. We know he is aware of it and has been briefed as well. The administration has been in touch with the Massachusetts governor's office as well. And also, of course, Carol, as we have reported, of course, that two F-15 fighter jets, apparently a pilot notifying NORAD, which is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, notifying NORAD and after that NORAD sending two F-15 fighter jets to intercept the plane and escort it to Boston's Logan International Airport.

And as our viewers know, and we've been telling them since September 11th, there have been what are called these combat air patrols monitoring the skies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in fact, Carol, above New York City, Washington D.C. and the northeast corridor. So, these have been going on and President Bush talking about them as recently as yesterday to say they are there to prevent any type of attack that we saw of September 11th, Carol.

LIN: Well, we certainly saw the system work well for us today. Thank you very much. Kelly Wallace, reporting live from the White House. We'll see you a little bit later in the evening as this story develops.

That is the latest from the CNN Center in Atlanta.




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