Students on flight diverted by bomb scare

Eleven students and staff at a Kentucky Baptist Convention-affiliated school witnessed Tuesday's events on US Airways Flight 787 while returning from a two-week mission trip to Niger.

By Bob Allen

Passsengers aboard a May 22 flight from Paris to Charlotte diverted to Bangor, Maine, due to a bomb scare included students from Campbellsville University returning home from a mission trip to Niger.

Students from the Kentucky Baptist Convention-affiliated school praised flight attendants, the pilot and federal authorities as they handled the situation on US Airways flight 787 as a woman suspected of having an explosive device implanted inside her was taken off the plane by federal authorities without incident.

Graduating senior Kevin Metzger, one of nine Campbellsville students sitting in the rear of the cabin along with campus ministries director Ed Pavy and intern Trent Creason, said he saw the woman seated five rows in front of him walk up and down the aisle a few times but didn’t notice anything unusual about her. After a flight attendant began moving up and down the aisle and medical personnel were called twice, they all assumed the woman was ill.

The pilot announced they were landing because they needed to refuel, Metzger said, and the sight of emergency vehicles on the ground was the passengers’ first clue that there might be a problem.

Officials came on board very quickly, escorted the suspicious passenger out, had dogs to search her luggage and took her into custody. Only then did the pilot explain what had happened.

Metzger said everybody was “really calm” and that staff were professional as they handled the situation.

Creason said the woman “didn’t look like the happiest camper” when she was removed from the plane but “there was no fighting when she was apprehended.”

According to media reports, as the airplane neared the United States, the woman handed a note to a flight attendant saying she had a “device” inside her body. Passengers subdued her and physicians quickly examined the woman, a French citizen born in Cameroon who was scheduled to visit the U.S. for 10 days, and found no evidence of an explosive implant.

Two fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Boeing 767 and escort it to a safe landing at Maine’s Bangor International Airport around noon. An FBI spokesman said there was no indication the plane or its 179 passengers and nine crew members were in any danger before the flight was diverted.

Last year U.S. officials warned airlines that terror groups were studying how to evade airport security by implanting bombs inside humans. CNN quoted a federal law enforcement source who said the woman would likely receive a psychiatric evaluation and posed “basically no threat.”

The Campbellsville students stayed in Paris the night before catching their flight at Charles de Gaulle airport at about 11 a.m. local time. According to US Airways, the diverted flight left Bangor after 3 ½ hours and arrived in Charlotte at 5:37 p.m. ET. The group was expected to arrive in Louisville Tuesday night.

“We are very thankful that the Campbellsville University staff and students, as well as all on US Airways flight 787, are safe and on their way home," said university President Michael Carter. "We appreciate the many phone calls and e-mails of concern about the safety of our CU staff and students and look forward to their return home."

Metzger, of Richmond, Va., a seasoned international traveler who has flown overseas about six times, said he wasn’t fazed by the adventure, but it may have been unsettling for some of the team members who had never been on a plane before. "If they can survive this, I guess they are good for any situation," Metzger said.

The Campbellsville team spent two weeks in Niger, a landlocked country in western Africa largely covered by the Sahara Desert, working with Mark and Parker Hill Phillips, both 2002 graduates of Campbellsville appointed to Niger by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Students split into two teams and took turns painting a local school building and using a method called Creation to Christ (C2C) to tell Bible stories in a country that according to the U.S. State Department is 97 percent Muslim.

This story is based on a news release by Joan McKinney, news and publications coordinator for Campbellsville University.