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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Unruly Passengers Divert Flight

Aired September 11, 2002 - 12:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go right now to Reagan National Airport, here in Washington, where our Patty Davis has some news to report about a plane that was brought down today -- Patty.
PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy. On a day of heightened alert in the U.S. aviation system, an incident involving a Northwest Airlines flight this morning, about 1 1/2 hours ago. Flight 979 from Memphis to Las Vegas was diverted to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

CNN's Kelli Arena spoke with U.S. government official, who say that at least three men were involved in a confrontation with the flight crew. They apparently had locked themselves in the airplane's bathroom at some point during this confrontation. Passengers then helped subdue these men along with the flight crew. The plane was met by the FBI and law enforcement. And the FBI is now interviewing these men and is investigating.

Northwest Airlines tell us that all passengers on board this flight are safe. That flight, 979, left Memphis about 8:45, an Airbus A320 -- 94 passengers on board, five crew.

We're told by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, that they did not scramble any jets, they were not involved in any intercept or helping this plane be diverted.

The White House, meanwhile, telling our Kelly Wallace that they are downplaying this incident, that it involved inappropriate behavior, not terrorist related -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And again, that plane on the way to Las Vegas.

Patty, what extra steps, though, are being taken these days in terms of commercial airliners. We know air marshals on board many if not all flights. You'd have to say the crew on these planes and passengers are more vigilant than ever.

DAVIS: Absolutely, and that really has been the case since September 11, that passengers are willing to step up. And they are not even putting up with any air rage, which used to be so common -- really not taking place anymore.

But since the level was raised from yellow to orange, the alert status, yesterday, the Transportation Security Administration has put all of its air marshals on flights now, full staff running. Normally, they are rotated in and out. They are all on flights, both domestic and international. All TSA personnel at airports are also on heightened alert status. They're looking at baggage more carefully, they are looking at passengers more carefully. We heard earlier today that there were some lines at some airports because perhaps though passenger screeners were being a little bit more vigilant.

Overall, though, we're hearing at airports across the country that there are fewer passengers flying today, and in fact, airlines have really cut their schedules. If you look at last Wednesday compared to this Wednesday, overall we see about 13 percent fewer scheduled flights. Passengers are staying away. They're just not booking -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Patty Davis, at Reagan National Airport, reporting on that flight that came down in fort Smith, Arkansas, a disturbance on a part of some passengers.

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