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Strange behavior diverts airliner

©Associated Press
September 12, 2002

FORT SMITH, Ark. -- An airliner was diverted to Fort Smith on Wednesday because four passengers behaved strangely on the flight, including at least three who locked themselves in a restroom, possibly shaving their body hair.

No injuries were reported.

Federal officials, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the incident was not believed to be related to terrorism.

However, KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, where Northwest Airlines is based, quoted an unidentified source as saying the men were "shaving themselves clean." People aboard the airplane reportedly gave investigators similar accounts.

After last year's terror attacks, documents found in the luggage of attack leader Mohamed Atta gave what appeared to be instructions for the suicide hijackers: "The previous night, shave the extra hair from the body (and) pray."

The men appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, said Jim Harris, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Scott Brenner said some people were detained by the FBI at Fort Smith, but he didn't know how many. The FBI office at Little Rock said the men were taken off the plane but their whereabouts were unknown.

Northwest Airlines Flight 979, an Airbus A320 traveling from Memphis, Tenn., to Las Vegas with 94 passengers and a crew of five, landed at Fort Smith late Wednesday morning, Northwest spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert said.

No fighter jets were launched to accompany the aircraft, said Maj. Douglas Martin of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The Northwest pilots decided themselves to land at Fort Smith as a precaution, the airline said in a statement.

Schubert said she could not elaborate on what alarmed the crew and could not confirm information about the alleged shaving.

Disturbance causes flight to return to airport

HOUSTON -- An American Airlines jet returned to Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday after reports of a disturbance on board, officials said.

FBI spokesman Bob Doguim said authorities were looking into the possibility someone may have tried to hijack the flight. But a government official later told the Associated Press there's no evidence of that.

The flight, with 50 passengers, left Houston for Dallas at 12:28 p.m. but returned to Bush Intercontinental at 1:08 p.m. after reports of a disturbance. The government official said that military jets were not scrambled to escort the plane back to Houston. Earlier reports indicated F-16 fighters had been deployed to escort the plane.

"The captain returned to Houston due to a potential security incident," said American spokesman Todd Burke. "We did have two federal air marshals on board. Our reports indicate the passenger involved has been removed from the aircraft."

No injuries were reported.

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