Military Scrambles Jets Because of Unruly Airline Passenger

Man made threat and refused to stow bag; plane returns to airport.

Jan. 6, 2010— -- The Oregon Air National Guard scrambled two F-15 fighter jets after a passenger on a Hawaiian Airlines jet to Maui refused to let go of his carry-on bag and passed what was described as a "disturbing note" to a flight attendant.

Hawaiian Flight 39 was about 40 minutes into its trip to Maui's Kahului airport when, at 12:30 p.m. PST, the pilot reported a disturbance.

The two planes intercepted the flight at about 1 p.m. and then escorted it back to Portland, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

The Boeing 767 headed back to the Portland airport, landing at 1:16 p.m. Law enforcement officers met the plane upon arrival and the passenger was removed.

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"The captain made a decision to return the plane to Portland due to a suspicious passenger who made threatening remarks and refused to store his carry-on bag," the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement.

'Low-Level' Incident, But High Alert

Keoni Wagner, vice president of public affairs for the airline called it a very "low-level" incident involving one disruptive passenger. Airport officals said the plane refueled and took off again for Hawaii.

There were 231 passengers on board.

The passenger, a 56-year-old man from Salem, Ore., was eventually released without being charged after he was questioned by the FBI.

NORAD's mission -- in close collaboration with homeland defense, security, and law enforcement partners -- is to prevent air attacks against North America, safeguard the sovereign airspaces of the United States and Canada by responding to unknown, unwanted and unauthorized air activity approaching and operating within these airspaces, and provide aerospace and maritime warning for North America.

NORAD may be required to monitor, shadow, divert from flight path, direct to land and/or destroy platforms deemed a potential threat to North America.

Ever since the attempted Christmas day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet from Amsterdam to Detroit, aviation officials, flew crews and passengers have been on edge. Just the very next day, there was a scare on the same exact flight after a passenger, who had food poisoning, spent too long in the airplane's bathroom.

And yesterday, the Bakersfield, Calif., airport was shut down for several hours after a checked bag set off security alarms. A suspicious amber liquid in a passenger's bag tested positive for explosives -- only to ultimately determine that the substance was honey.

Also today, a Northwest Airlines flight taxiing for takeoff at Miami International Airport returned to the gate after a passenger was heard making inappropriate remarks and acting disruptively. Local law enforcement and TSA met the aircraft upon its return and all passengers were deplaned.

The plane, bound for Detroit Wayne County International Airport, was swept, but nothing was found and it was cleared for departure. The passenger and three travel companions were being questioned by Miami Dade County police late today.