Panicking passenger forces plane to make emergency landing in Boston

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The Independent US

An airliner that took off from Heathrow yesterday made an emergency landing in the United States after a terror alert caused by a panicking woman passenger. Two fighter jets escorted the US-bound plane, carrying 182 passengers and 12 crew, to Logan airport in Boston.

Initial reports suggested that a 59-year-old woman had been carrying a screwdriver, petroleum jelly, matches and a note mentioning al-Qa'ida, but that was later denied by airport officials. The woman was arrested after the plane had landed safely in connection with a confrontation with the flight crew, according to transport officials.

US security chiefs said the woman had become claustrophobic and upset, provoking a confrontation with flight crew.

After the Washington-bound United Airlines flight landed at Boston, all the passengers' suitcases and bags were laid out on the runway and checked for explosives by a sniffer dog.

In a separate incident a man broke into a plane at Gatwick to retrieve a lost wallet. The man was allowed to wander unchallenged in a secure area and force his way on to the aircraft.

Although neither of the scares were terrorist incidents, they illustrated the heightened state of alert and fear surrounding aircraft security. The incidents came a week after the police and MI5 foiled an alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives on to as many as 10 US-bound airliners and blow them up in mid-air.

Yesterday's emergency landing involved Flight 923 which left Heathrow at 8.30am. It had been due to land at Washington at 4.10pm UK time and then fly on to Denver, Colorado. But the captain declared a security emergency after what airline officials described as "an altercation with at least one female passenger". A United Airlines spokeswoman said: "The plane is safely on the ground in Boston. The crew assessed the situation and determined that a divert was the appropriate course of action."

In the second airport security incident, Thomas Cook Airlines called for the prosecution of a man who broke into a plane at Gatwick to retrieve his wallet. The charter airline is demanding answers from BAA as to how the man was allowed to go unchallenged in a secure area. The Asian man was discovered clutching a briefcase inside the Majorca-bound plane at 1.10am on Tuesday. He had arrived at Gatwick on a Thomson flight from Ibiza.

The man realised he had lost his wallet and boarded the Thomas Cook plane after smashing an alarmed glass door lock on the jetty. When challenged by cleaners he fled but was later detained and questioned by police, before being released without charge.

Meanwhile, American immigration officials were accused of "plain racism" after refusing to let a British man heading for Disneyland with his family enter the country yesterday.

Azar Iqbal was turned back after US immigration tightened checks on UK travellers in the wake of last week's terror raids. His wife, Rizwana, and children Mohin, 14, Murvah, 10, and Ibrahim, five, who were allowed to continue the two-week holiday, watched in tears as he was sent back to Britain.

They had been cleared by security at Manchester airport before boarding the Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta last Thursday, on the first leg of their trip. During four hours' questioning Mr Iqbal was asked whether he knew any of the suspects who had been arrested. He said: "The whole experience was completely demeaning. One of the officials even said sarcastically, 'We didn't tell you to come to America on holiday'." Mr Iqbal said that three other Asians on the flight were also refused entry.

Shahid Mustafa, of the First for Florida travel agency, which arranged the trip, said: "Obviously this is a backlash to the 10August arrests, but I would put it down to plain racism."