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Flight 253 from Amsterdam Alerts TSA Upon Landing

Aired December 27, 2009 - 14:18   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. This breaking story we're following coming out of Detroit one day after a Nigerian was charged with trying to blow up a U.S. airliner.

Now we're understanding that at Detroit Airport, according to the Wane County Airport Authority and also witnesses there, there are emergency crews that are putting themselves into place because a Northwest flight 253, which also bears the same identity of that plane that was in trouble on Christmas day -- now Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam making its way to Detroit.

Apparently the crew has requested emergency assistance and will apparently be pulled aside upon arrival. That's the information we're getting from the public affairs, Wane County Airport Authority official.

We have also on the line with us an eyewitness there at the airport, at the Detroit Airport, Don Graham, who is not a passenger who is flying today, but, instead, has been waiting for family members to arrive there.

Don, what can you tell me about what you're seeing at the airport right now?

DON GRAHAM, WAITING FOR FAMILY AT DETROIT AIRPORT: I see the delta plane, which is probably another northwest plane with the Delta markings and the merger of the airlines and extreme southwest -- I'm sorry, southeast corner of the field is completely surrounded by emergency vehicles.

There's an armed policeman at the gate there with a machine gun drawn and the passengers, many of them, have been deplaned at a manual basis out in the field and the vehicle, the aircraft which looks identical to the one from Christmas day is about a mile from the field, safely on the ground, but is completely engulfed by emergency vehicles and the local police now are starting to close down middle belt road here.

So they're trying to secure off the area. But at first I thought it was a drill, but then I saw the white vehicle that I think is used for explosive detections race down the highway and several other police vehicles race towards the scene and the total vehicles, including a fire truck, is completely surrounded.

It doesn't appear, as though, that the plane is any imminent danger, but it looks like a horrible deja vu from the Christmas incident. WHITFIELD: And so, Don, I also want to clarify that Delta and Northwest airlines have been merging. We also we're getting a statement from Delta Airlines saying that an unruly passenger on that flight is now being questioned, as well.

I don't have anything more than that, but that they have an unruly passenger onboard that Northwest flight 253 and, as you continue to describe for us what you're seeing, the emergency crews that have made their way around this, presumably this same flight that has now landed.

Are you seeing anything in the way of a, you know, portable jetway that is being brought to that airline?

GRAHAM: Yes, the portable jetway, the portable jetway was up almost immediately and officials -- many officials are on the ground and then passengers, I believe, it's sort of unmistakable still about a couple of thousand yards from the road and it looked to me like they brought up at least eight or nine more municipal-style buses, usually used to bring the employees to and from the airport.

And it looked to me like the passengers were being deplaned maybe for precautionary reasons from that aircraft right on the field and put on the buses.

WHITFIELD: And have you seen people deplane?

GRAHAM: I have seen people deplaned. I don't see anyone deplaning right now. I don't know if they're all off. In fact, I'm going to make my way from the area because the police now are starting to -- are sectioned off the area and they're not letting anyone, obviously, watch.

WHITFIELD: About how many people did you see deplane from your vantage point?

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: About how many people?

GRAHAM: How many what?

WHITFIELD: About how many people did you see deplane from your vantage point?

GRAHAM: I saw a full -- if you're familiar with a portable jetway, this was full of people. So, I don't know if all of them got off. Obviously, you know, I'm just waiting here and -- for other family members to come in on an unrelated flight that is also delayed and, you know, I saw at least a bus full, what looked like a bus full of passengers coming off of that plane, which is a good mile from the terminal.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Don, while I have you, I just have a little more clarity on the statement coming from Delta Airlines. A spokesperson saying that flight 253 from Amsterdam on its way to Detroit departed at 9:59...


WHITFIELD: ... flight path from Amsterdam to Detroit similar to what took place on Christmas day. This time now, a day after charges have been imposed on a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He was charged with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner. Now we're understanding that an emergency landing was requested by the crew on the same flight, flight 253 from Amsterdam, just moments ago.

That flight safely now on the ground. We're getting that information from Delta. Delta-Northwest airlines merging. We also have Martin Savidge who's there at the Detroit Airport.

And, Martin, are you able to tell us what you can see or what you're learning in terms of those passengers who have deplaned already? What is the status of that aircraft?


WHITFIELD: OK. All right, Don, do I have you back now? Who do I have on the line with me? Don Graham or Martin Savage?

WHITFIELD: OK. Martin, what do you have?

SAVIDGE: Well, the information we have is that it is, again, Northwest Airlines flight 253, and that it was traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit as it does every day and, again, on this particular day, there was apparently some sort of emergency that was declared by the pilot as the plane was coming in.

When the plane did land, it was immediately taken to a remote area of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and...

WHITFIELD: Are you still there, Martin? OK, we're going to try and reestablish that connection. Clearly, cell phones not the most reliable right now during what is being considered an emergency situation there at Detroit airport.

This Northwest Airline flight crew, as you heard Martin Savidge getting ready to reiterate for us, the crew called in and requested some emergency back up there. Now we hear from Delta Airlines that there was an unruly passenger, a verbally disruptive is the way they're describing passenger onboard and that the crew requested law enforcement meet the aircraft.

We heard from one eyewitness, Don Graham, described there that as the plane landed, it was immediately surrounded by emergency crews. Portable jetways were also brought out and that eyewitness was able to see some passengers deplane.

We understand from Delta that passengers have deplaned. We don't know about this verbally disruptive, however, passenger, that Delta described. It looks like Martin Savidge is back with us now from the Detroit airport.

Martin, pick it up from there.

SAVIDGE: Well, sorry, we're trying to maneuver to get a better view of the aircraft and passing through tunnels, we lose our signal. But we can see what looks like an Airbus similar to the Airbus 330 that was, of course, involved in the incident on Christmas day. It's not that airplane by any means. That plane is still being used by law enforcement.

A similar aircraft that is in a secluded part. You can see emergency vehicles are around the aircraft. They're flashing red lights and it's very isolated by itself out on -- what is it? We're told a seldom used area of the large Detroit airport complex.

We did see a caravan of appeared to be about four or five buses so that may be the passengers were disembarked from the aircraft itself and may be on their way to the terminal.

We had a crew that was inside waiting to meet those passengers because we were interesting in talking to find out their experience even before this emergency was declared if they noticed any security changes on this flight from previous flight coming from overseas as a result of everything that has happened since Christmas day.

But that's all we know. We have not been able to talk to any of the passengers. And we're still monitoring and watching this situation as it unfolds right now.

WHITFIELD: Are you able to tell, Marty, was there -- this emergency situation on the tarmac has in any way disrupted planned takeoffs or other planned landings there in Detroit?

SAVIDGE: It does not appear to have impacted them. I'm watching a Northwest commuter flight that is coming in right now in the foreground. So, you know, it seems that operations -- at least from the casual observance of our vantage point -- appear to be going on unaffected.

Now of course, if anybody was waiting for their loved ones or someone who was on board 253, they might be very anxious at this particular time. But as we say, we did see buses that were leaving the area the aircraft had been.

It's heading towards the terminal so it's quite possible that they're now in the process of deplaning and getting back to normal.

WHITFIELD: OK. And this is taking place just one day after the suspect in the Christmas day attempted terror attack was officially charged. We understand tomorrow there may be some new movement as it pertains to, I guess, the legal obstacles for him. Correct?

SAVIDGE: Well, there apparently is a request on the part of the federal government to take a DNA sample from him and, of course, that requires a legal proceeding in order to go forward with that. It has not been explained exactly why that DNA sample is wanted or how it may be used if in any way for prosecution of this case. But that is the next step that will happen and then there are subsequent hearings, detention hearings that come up January 8th. So this is just the first steps of what is obviously going to be a long, legal process.

And, of course, the fact that he appears well enough to leave the burn unit where he had been that University of Michigan Hospital and now go into the custody of U.S. marshals would also imply that he is well enough to move forward in the legal process.

WHITFIELD: And where is he being held now that he's been removed from the hospital?

SAVIDGE: We don't know. Authorities being very tight lipped on his whereabouts right now. Fairly usual on this sort of circumstance. I mean they will not even say exactly what time of day he was released from the hospital, whether it's early this morning or whether it's midday or even late last night.

All we know is that we've been told he has been handed over to the custody of U.S. marshals which, again, that is standard operating procedure, and that he is in a secure and safe location, I guess you can assume that it's probably some sort of federal facility.

Whether that's in the Detroit area or elsewhere, you simply cannot know at this particular time with the information we've been given.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, once again, if you're just now joining us, we understand that Northwest Airlines flight 253 bearing the same identity as the Christmas day flight where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is now being charged with trying to bring that plane down, now, we understand just moments ago the crew onboard the Northwest Airlines flight 253 requested that emergency crews be in place upon its landing in Detroit after flying from Amsterdam because of what Delta Airlines is now saying, a verbally abusive passenger and verbally disruptive passenger was on board.

We're still awaiting more details about who this person just might be and what kind of behavior was taking place on board to alarm the crew. The plane has safely landed there in Detroit. We heard eyewitnesses and even our Martin Savidge there, correspondent there in Detroit, describe emergency crews around this aircraft and passengers, 257 passengers and crew onboard, many of whom have already now deplaned there.

And, Martin, do we know whether there's still crew onboard or did all the passengers and crew actually deplane or just some?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): From at least the vantage point we're at, I mean, as I pointed out, this aircraft is in a remote area of the airport. Obviously, they chose that location because of -- for security reasons. We can still see a large number of what appeared to be emergency and rescue vehicles flashing lights both on the side and front and behind the aircraft. There's no indication of any physical problem with the aircraft. We did see and there still are a few buses. These are typical passenger buses to transport people in an airport. And we also saw a caravan, about four or five them about 10 minutes that were headed from the direction of the terminal. So, we're assuming it seems that they allowed the passengers to leave. Clearly, there are still a lot of personnel, emergency and otherwise.

Then just past the roads where we're stopped on the airport property, there were a number of vehicles with sirens and lights flashing that went racing past. So, there is a lot of activity that's associated with it. It could be that they're just erring on the side of caution here. That given the incident of Christmas Day, nobody wants to be too relaxed, even maybe a disgruntled passenger, or maybe there is more to it.

At this particular point, you just cannot say other than the fact that it is Flight 253. It is the same flight number, it's the same airlines, and it was coming from the same place as the flight on which a terrorist or attempted terrorist attack was carried out on Christmas Day.

WHITFIELD: And, now, here a potential other similarity: two government sources telling CNN that a man spent about an hour in the laboratory and got upset when he was questioned by the crew onboard this flight today, Flight 253. And that's why that person is now being questioned, as well.

Similar to what some eyewitness accounts are that Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab who was the suspect has been charged from the Christmas Day attempted attack, apparently, eyewitnesses say that he spent about 20 minutes, maybe even 30 minutes in the lavatory of that aircraft before taking his seat and then trying to ignite this incendiary device on his lap and that's what alarmed a lot of the crew members.

And we're getting kind of a piece by piece bits of information about this emergency situation involving this Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. This is today. Now, just a couple days after the Christmas Day attempted attack.

And so, as you mentioned, Martin Savidge there in Detroit, many people very much on edge. We know that this has impacted air travel across the country because lines are a lot longer, security is taking much longer. What has been the scene there at the Detroit airport even prior to this latest call of an emergency?

SAVIDGE: Well, there were long lines this morning. Of course, it's the end of a peak holiday travel period and Sunday is the day that many people use to return. So, there were long lines this morning and there were reports and passengers that we spoke to who had missed flights they said because of the extended security lines.

It's not quite clear that the lines are long because of the fact of the additional traffic of holiday travelers or is it because of additional measures that may have been implemented.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAVIDGE (via telephone): ... to their seat and not allowed to retrieve any personal items, not allowed to be even have a pillow or a blanket on their lap. And these are supposed to be the new procedures that are being in place. In fact, we were going to ask the passengers if, in fact, they do this. That scenario has been changed a bit as a result of this emergency that's been declared.

WHITFIELD: And, yes, and we understand now, according to one government source, too, Martin, that all of the passengers are, indeed, off the flight from that Flight 253. Again, crew members are the ones who actually called for some assistance, emergency assistance, upon landing because they were concerned, according to Delta Airlines, of a verbally abusive passenger that was onboard.

We're still awaiting a little bit more clarity on who this passenger or person or disruptive person was onboard and it will be interesting to hear, Martin, if you and the CNN crews are, indeed, able to still talk to some of those passengers as you were planning to talk with the passengers on that Amsterdam flight just to see exactly what it was like to fly one day after this Nigerian Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner.

So, once again, if you're just now joining us, an emergency situation at Detroit's airport. This a day after the charging of one person for allegedly trying to blow up a U.S. airliner. Now, Northwest Flight 253 bearing the same identity as that Christmas Day flight -- this flight, the crew, called in emergency, saying there was an unruly passenger, someone who was verbally abusive. The plane landed without incident, a portable Jetway was brought out to the aircraft. All the passengers were deplaned and the crew onboard, as well, presumably.

We are still awaiting more information as to what's going to happen to this one passenger if it was one or if it was many about being verbally disruptive and what kind of questioning is taking place as of yet.

I know our Barbara Starr is also in Washington and soon to be joining us. Are we able to take that shot right now in Washington.

Barbara Starr -- OK, are you with us now? What are your sources telling you about the response of this latest emergency?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, I just talked to a U.S. government official with direct knowledge of what has transpired. He says that this incident began to unfold while the plane was still in the air, making its way to its landing point, that the crew, the pilots reported that there was a passenger who had been up and down from his seat several times. According to this official, this person went to the bathroom and spent an extended period of time in the bathroom and the crew reported that this was suspicious and they asked for this emergency assistance on the ground to be ready for them when they landed.

This was all monitored by government officials in Washington. There was, apparently, an interagency phone call. This is standard procedure now post-9/11, when there is some sort of aviation incident in the United States. The FAA, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. military, the White House, the Situation room, they all get on an emergency interagency call so that they can share information, so every bit of information that is coming in is known to all government agencies so there can be an appropriate response.

We are told there was no request for the U.S. military to launch fighters to escort the plane to the ground and the U.S. military did not get involved, but all the appropriate, both civilian and military, agencies were on this phone call, monitoring the entire situation, in touch with the aircraft, in touch with the FAA so this emergency response capability would be ready on the ground when the plane finally landed, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Barbara, what was the timeline on that when this interagency call took place? At what phase, you know, how many minutes perhaps...


WHITFIELD: ... after a crew said, we've got a problem?

STARR: Yes. I have to tell you, we're trying to resolve that and get that information.

But in the typical post-9/11 world, once a crew in the air, once a pilot believes he has a problem, he radios to the FAA immediately and that emergency telephone call process essentially is activated. Since 9/11, the FAA keeps an open phone line 24/7, both to the U.S. military to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado, to the White House Situation Room, to all the appropriate homeland security agencies basically, Fred, so everyone can come up on the Net instantly and be fully aware of what's going on and have that coordinated federal emergency response when there is a problem.

We don't know exactly what has transpired here and how much of a threat this posed or whether this was an unruly passenger or what exactly was involved, but this is the kind of procedure that has been put in place so all of the government agencies know everything as the situation is unfolding and can respond. The irony the other day when this suspected Nigerian man had this device, we're not sure that everyone responded as fast as they could -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Barbara, while you're talking, we're getting new images that are coming in from our affiliate WDIV. You see the buses there just underneath the wing of that plane, presumably, that Northwest Flight 253. Those buses either being loaded, because I think these are taped images. Am I getting that right? Or are these live images?

OK. These are live images then. It's hard to tell whether the passengers are already on those buses or not. We did get confirmation from Delta Airlines, which is merging with Northwest Airlines, that all passengers and crew were being deplaned.

Our Martin Savidge is also there in Detroit. As we look at these live images, Martin, we can now see, get a better view of the emergency vehicles that were called into action that were there, at the ready for this landing and the buses in place for those passengers and crew. Is it your understanding that, indeed, all the passengers and crew are now on those buses and that perhaps they are questioning the suspicious individual or the person that Delta describes as being verbally abusive?

SAVIDGE: Yes. I can't tell you about the crew, that I don't know. They may still be remaining behind due to responsibilities with the aircraft and also with responsibilities they might have with authorities. But the passengers, we do believe, have been brought to the terminal.

Now, of course, they have to go through additional screening and may, in fact, depending on how serious this altercation was have to be held for some time. Keep in mind, the passengers that came on Christmas Day were held, I think, for five or six hours while authorities questioned every one of them.

Does this sort of incident require that we don't know at this particular point? But even still they have to be brought to the terminal. They have to go through customs, as is customary, and, of course, after that, then they go down to baggage claim. So, it's going to be some time, probably, before we talk to actually see them talk and then find out what specifically happened, how serious was this incident and how concerned were they about it.

But the fact that, you know, we did see buses coming to the terminal means that they have at least been brought off the aircraft and that's about how far as we can go.

WHITFIELD: OK. And Barbara Starr, are you still with us from Washington? What's your understanding of what the procedure would ordinarily be -- OK.

Well, it looks like Barbara is going to do some more reporting, we'll try to get back with her momentarily, as we look at these images now and you see some of the buses are moving, Martin, from our vantage point where we can see, and perhaps some of those buses are loaded up now and are heading toward, perhaps the main terminal or concourse where many of those passengers will, indeed, be questioned, like you mentioned, similar to the passengers and crew that were questioned on that Christmas Day flight.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is also with us now on the line.

And, Jeanne, this is interesting because we are talking about the same flight path, same airline, same flight number but, clearly, a different plane, a different aircraft, but Detroit being put through the drill one more time. These passengers presumably on these buses now after being deplaned from this Flight 253 from Amsterdam, landing in Detroit just a short while ago. And now, these buses heading, perhaps, to the terminal or concourse where, as Martin Savidge was just describing, they are likely all to be questioned as they get to the bottom exactly that the course of events that took place on this aircraft.

Martin, we reported a little bit earlier that the crew apparently told officials on the ground that they had a disruptive passenger. And that was enough to spark enough concern to get all these emergency crews on the ground. They certainly did respond immediately to the concerns of the crew, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, I just got disconnected so what I'm doing now is I'm walking past the departure area of the terminal. There's flashing lights of these emergency vehicles that are here. I don't know if that is related to the incident, of course, that's taking place out on the runway, which is probably about a mile or distance from the main terminal here. But I'm trying to get down to get a better vantage point of the aircraft, I cannot see the images that you've been describing about on air.

So, as you walk past the terminal here, one of the things you notice, of course, is that, you know, everything is going on as normal. People are loading their bags and saying good-bye to loved ones and they're traveling. So, the airport operations are continuing to operate as normal and flights are taking off and landing as normal despite the fact that you have what appears to be troubling circumstances of an aircraft 253, again, coming in from Amsterdam into this (INAUDIBLE), a bit of deja vu.

WHITFIELD: It's difficult to know unless your sources are able to tell you when the emergency, when the crew made that emergency call. Do we know how close they were to their descent into Detroit?

SAVIDGE: You know, I think that, as we're finding out, this was not, you know, sort of a moment that was declared. It was sort of -- something that the crew had been following for a while. They had been noting what this suspicious -- what they thought suspicious behavior of this passenger either crew members or fellow passengers have noted, (INAUDIBLE) the aircraft noted how much time he spent in the bathroom.

So, I think that this was probably an ongoing conversation with somebody on the ground as to here we have this airplane and here we have this individual. So, I think the official declaration of "We'd like to have emergency crews meet us" may have come towards the end of the flight, but it appears the monitoring of this individual had been going on for some time.

WHITFIELD: Could you tell from your vantage point that something was awry by seeing movement on the tarmac, seeing these emergency crews getting into place before the landing of this aircraft?

SAVIDGE: It was, actually, because we had anticipated to meet the passengers of this flight, as I explained, where we were just going to talk to them about what was their experience like security-wise, had they noted any changes as a result of the incident on Christmas Day. We did note that the plane was due in around 12:00 or so, and was slightly late, not that unusual with a plane coming from an international destination, long way, nine hours, always going to be head winds or something. But then, what became obvious to us was that the passengers were not arriving. They should have been getting off, of course, and then arriving down at baggage claim. And then we got notification that the passengers were being held on the plane. Clearly, that is not normal.

And then we began seeing flashing lights at the terminal, emergency vehicles and we began getting -- looking to see, well, where is 253? That was the first question. Is this plane, 253? It turns out, according to authorities here -- yes, in fact, it is the same flight. And that's when alarm bells have really begun to go off.

WHITFIELD: Martin, thanks so much. I'll have you stick with us for a moment.

I'm just going to recap for people who are just now joining us. No, you're not looking at taped images from Christmas Day of a Northwest Airlines flight making a landing in Detroit from Amsterdam because of a suspicious character onboard. This time, you're looking at live and taped images from today. This incident taking place just within the past few minutes, really. The same airline, Northwest, same flight number, Flight 253, and also the same flight path from Amsterdam to Detroit. This time, the crew sent a message to authorities on the ground in Detroit saying we wanted some backup because we're about to land and we have an unruly passenger.

Delta Airlines, merging with Northwest Airlines, says a verbally abusive passenger was onboard. Emergency crews were on the ground, ready and waiting for this airline to land. It did land safely. You're looking at images of that aircraft right now. Surrounding it are emergency vehicles, as well as buses. On those buses will be all the passengers and crew deplaning from that aircraft.

And then, as Martin Savidge was describing a bit ago, all of those crew members, as well as all the passengers will be questioned quite extensively to try to piece together exactly what took place, what was the behavior of this passenger or passengers who were unruly onboard this flight. We don't know anything more about the details of this passenger onboard, but we know that this was a safe landing for this aircraft and the drill is now ongoing. Everyone will be questioned about exactly what took place onboard.

Our Martin Savidge there at the airport was able to see a lot of the activity taking place at Detroit airport, getting ready for the arrival of this aircraft.

It was, Martin, you also planned, the crew, to talk to people who are arriving from this aircraft just to get an idea of what flying has been like for the people onboard this aircraft that had an emergency just a few days ago.

SAVIDGE: Right. This was to see how the new security measures that have been talked about and implemented -- had the passengers noted anything different? Did they, in fact, get the orders to remain in their seat? Of course, that conversation is going to be (INAUDIBLE) now wanting to know, what exactly did take place on the flight today. How severe was this emergency and how suspicious was this passenger for which apparently this emergency has been declared.

I can see the aircraft very blustery, very bitter cold day here in Detroit, and as we point out, the aircraft, which is very similar, if not the same plane to the one involved in the incident on Christmas Day, is surrounded by emergency vehicles and, of course, you can see the buses that are out there, as well.

So, what we want to find out from the passengers is what exactly transpired today. Is this merely trying to be especially cautious, or was it something more serious and has anybody been taken into custody? That's the big issue. We presume somebody has (INAUDIBLE) of somebody who just had a bad attitude or somebody more serious, in fact.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And all of this just taking place just one day after Abdul -- Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with wanting to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. He was just released today, correct, from the hospital where he was being treated for his burns as a result of trying to ignite that incendiary explosive device onboard. He was read his charges while he was in the hospital room.

But now, he's been taken, correct, Martin, to an undisclosed location where he's being held and then there will be some DNA testing that will take place tomorrow?

SAVIDGE: Well, at least the request is going to be made tomorrow. And we're not exactly sure why they want to take a DNA sample from the suspect, but that is the intent on the federal government to request for that permission.

He was released from hospital. We believe it was today, although authorities are being extremely tight-lipped. They will only say that he was handed over to the custody of U.S. Federal Marshals and that he is in a safe and secure location. We presume that that's some sort of federal facility and that's where it stands right now.

You know, you have to keep in mind that going back to Christmas Day when this event unfolded, there were many tense hours in the initial aftermath because there were fears that perhaps this is not a lone operative, or perhaps there could be other suspects like this young man on other planes now coming towards the United States. The 9/11 scenario, that that was more than one. So, there were some very tense hours in Washington and elsewhere as they waited to see if other planes declared emergencies.

And in the days subsequent, there is still that nervousness that perhaps this wasn't just one attempt, that this is an attempt that will be tried again and again. So, that's why tensions are heightened, that's why concerns are raised, certainly, public awareness is very much raised and crew awareness onboard these flights is raised. And, so, all of that maybe what explained what we're seeing happening here with this aircraft today -- or maybe it's something more. We're just waiting to find out.

WHITFIELD: And, martin, I'm going to read to you a statement that's coming from TSA, a written statement saying, Northwest Airlines alerted TSA to a disruptive passenger onboard Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. The flight landed safely at Detroit International Airport at approximately 12:35 p.m. Eastern Time without incident. The aircraft has been moved to remote location for additional screening. TSA and law enforcement met the aircraft upon arrival.

The passenger -- the passenger, the disruptive passenger is now in custody, but it's unclear, still, the behavior of this passenger. We did hear from Delta Airlines earlier that said this passenger was verbally disruptive but it's unclear what more.

Martin, you described on the day of Christmas when this same flight, Flight 253, landed at Detroit airport, the passenger and crew were held for about five to maybe even six hours for questioning. Is it -- is it your understanding the same thing, same routine may be played out today for these passengers and crew that are -- that have now deplaned from this aircraft for additional questioning?

SAVIDGE: It's possible. And that is all going to be depending on how seriously federal authorities and local authorities deem the problem onboard the aircraft. What's interesting to note is the difference in the attitude of the two suspicious people on these two different incidents.

I mean, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, one of the things that struck passengers aboard the aircraft was that even after he attempted to detonate the explosive device, he never said anything, he never shouted anything, he never made any demands. In fact, he did very little to bring attention to himself other than, of course, when he was in the bathroom for an extended period.

That is different than the sort of scenario we're hearing described to us by officials and apparently those onboard the aircraft who say that this particular passenger brought a great deal of attention to themselves in their attitude and also in the language that was used.

So, two different scenarios. Whether that means we've got two different sorts of situations here or something very similar, it's too early to tell.

WHITFIELD: OK. Martin, hold on for a moment, I've got Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr who is with us. She's been working her sources as well, joining us again from Washington.

Anything new that you've learned, Barbara?

STARR: Well, Fred, what we know is, as we've discussed, is the pilot radioed from the air that there was this situation onboard the aircraft, this activated an interagency phone call here in Washington, amongst all the security agencies. The U.S. military, the (AUDIO BREAK), the FAA, the TSA, the entire alphabet soup, the Situation Room at the White House gets involved.

Since 9/11, this is the procedure in the United States. When a pilot radios he has a problem, the -- all the appropriate agencies get on an interagency call so that they can monitor what is happening in the air, so they can determine what the best response is to bring the plane safely to the ground, and to respond on the ground once the plane lands.

By all accounts, the pilot said he had this disruptive passenger. A source we have spoken to who also is very familiar with what was said on this call says the report is that this man was up and down to the bathroom several times -- the last time, perhaps, being in the bathroom for an extremely extended period of time. This raising some suspicions.

That statement you read, Fred, saying "disruptive." I don't know that they're mutually exclusive. We're likely to learn more about what raised the concerns that made the pilot feel the need to radio the FAA and say that he had this problem.

But this is the textbook example of the way it's supposed to work. They radioed there's a problem. The government, you know, springs into action, monitors the situation and there was this emergency response capability on the ground in Detroit, ready to respond. Take the plane to a secure area on the airfield, get the passengers off. Get this man off and begin processing this entire scene and this entire situation.

Probably worth remembering one more time, we don't know very much about this the specifics here -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Barbara, thanks so much.

Jeanne Meserve, homeland security correspondent, also with us now on the phone.

And what are your sources telling you, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, as you know, the TSA has now put out a statement which really is saying no more than what we'd already intuited from other sources, or learned from other sources, just that Northwest Airlines alerted the TSA to this disruptive passenger on the flight going from Amsterdam to Detroit, to emphasize the flight landed safely at the airport at 12:35 without incident. It's been moved to a remote location for screening. TSA and law enforcement met the aircraft and the passenger is now in custody.

At this point, they're not providing any further details of what is transpiring on the ground there.

Now, a couple points to make here: of course, this is the same flight number originating from the same city going to Detroit. A lot of reasons why red flags are being waved over this particular incident. But, let me tell you that planes fairly regularly are taken to secure areas of airports to deal with all manner of situations onboard the flight. Some of them are, indeed, secure.


WHITFIELD: Interagency call that took place immediately after the crew notified the correct people, to let them that there was a potential emergency onboard. And so, now, we understand the White House was briefed quite immediately. There are five hours difference from east coast time, 9:00 a.m. was notified of the incident and we'll be having yet another interagency or teleconference briefing as soon as possible on this.