LOS ANGELES (AP) — A SWAT team with guns drawn searched a jet packed with passengers at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday after authorities received a threat about the flight from Houston, officials said.
The search, which was aired live on local television stations, was one of two incidents Tuesday involving flights originating in Houston. Threats related to both incidents were deemed not credible, and no one was detained.
In Los Angeles, 76 passengers and four crew members were escorted from an American Airlines twin-engine regional jet more than an hour after it landed without incident. Seven SWAT officers and a police dog drove up in an armored vehicle and went through the plane, which was kept on a remote stretch of runway during the search.
The Transportation Security Administration received the threat against American Eagle Flight 5931, operated by Compass Airlines, LAX police Officer Rob Pedregon said.
Officials did not release details about it, and the TSA referred inquiries to local law enforcement.
The FBI would try to determine “the person or group responsible for making the threat,” agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
“I was scared,” passenger Mickey Montavo told reporters after she was allowed off the plane. “I texted my kids, `I love you. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ ”
She said passengers didn’t know what was going on at first, but they later were told there had been a bomb threat.
Passengers were told not to move or touch their phones, and they had to put their hands on the seats in front of them for about 20 minutes, she said.
Another passenger posted a video to Snapchat showing the SWAT team on the plane as someone announced: “Don’t worry, we’re going to pull you guys all off in a minute. Nice and orderly, nice and slow.”
“This is nuts. This is so crazy,” the passenger films herself saying as a SWAT member stood in the background.
In Houston, a phoned-in threat to Delta Flight 227, which was departing for Atlanta, was deemed not credible after passengers and baggage were rescreened, said Houston Airport System spokesman Bill Begley. He knew of no link to the LAX incident.
The response in Los Angeles was normal for LAX, but it would have been unusual for most other U.S. airports, said Jeff Price, an aviation safety expert who has written a textbook on the subject and trains airport workers nationwide.
That’s because LAX is historically one of the most targeted airports in the country and has a SWAT team based there, he said.
“A lot of other airports wouldn’t have responded at that level unless they had additional information about the credibility of the threat,” Price said. “In this case, you’ve got them, you might as well use them. If it turns out to be nothing, great. If something bad happens, the question is going to be: `Why didn’t you do it?’ ”
Jerry Bridges, a construction worker building hangars at LAX, said he has noticed more drills at the airport since EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed overseas last week. Investigators are trying to determine what brought down the jet during a trip from Paris to Cairo.
Airport officials said in a statement last week that they had heightened security and anti-terrorism measures in the wake of the crash.
Bridges said he thought the large law enforcement response was part of a drill at first. He took pictures and video of the SWAT team boarding the plane after he heard there might be a bomb threat.
“If that thing did have a bomb, we’re not even an eighth of a mile away,” he said. “It’s pretty scary.”
The plane took off from Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. When it landed in Los Angeles airport police, city police and fire crews responded. The SWAT team searched the outside of the plane before walking up a staircase and into the aircraft to screen it, their rifles pointing downward.
Eventually, passengers and crew exited down a portable staircase and got on buses to be taken to a terminal.
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