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Two F-16s from Buckley AFB scrambled to escort suspect airliner

April 22, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A passenger who claimed to have a bomb aboard a United Airlines flight was subdued by passengers as the California-bound plane was diverted to Denver International Airport. Two F-16 fighter jets from Buckley Air Force Base scrambled to escort the plane.

USAF F-16C block 30 #86-0338 from the 120th FS is parked on the tarmac at Buckley AFB on October 27th, 2005. [Photo by Dirk A. Geerts]

The A-320 Airbus heading to Sacramento, Calif., from Chicago. flew into Denver Friday. The F-16s followed to make sure nothing untoward was going to happen.

Jose Manuel Pelayo-Ortega tried to open an door on the Airbus A-320 en route from Chicago to Sacramento, Calif., and then claimed to have a bomb forcing the emergency landing in Denver.

The guy was arrested after the plane landed around 16.30h.

Fellow passengers on the plane subdued the man and three Secret Service agents on board heading between assignments helped detain him.

After the airliner landed, it taxied to a remote part of the airport where the passengers got off and were taken to the terminal.

None of the 138 passengers or six crew members was injured.

Authorities searched the aircraft for explosives and re-screened luggage and passengers before they reboarded the plane, which took off for its original destination around 19.30h.

The apparatus that could ultimately have lead to the plane with 138 passengers and six crew members being shot down - put in place after 911 - was fully operational Friday, with agencies that included the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security on an open phone line monitoring the flight.

Had the plane "been judged as a threat by the highest levels of our government, they could make the decision to have the plane shot down," said Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a spokesman for NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian military command based outside Colorado Springs that monitors missiles, aircraft and space objects and warns of threats.

President Bush would ultimately make the decision.

A "shoot-don't shoot" scenario didn't develop because the plane was following all FAA instructions. One of the last resorts would have included the fighter pilots either talking to or attempting to talk to the pilot of the airliner, which didn't happen Friday, Kelly said

Since Sept. 11, fighters have been scrambled or if already airborne diverted 2,300. The Transportation Security Administration said it did not have numbers on how many flights have been diverted.

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