Bomb hoax jet landed because of letters 'B-O-B' on sick bag

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The Independent Online

The "bomb threat" that prompted a United Airlines plane bound for Los Angeles to turn around and return to Sydney was the letters "B-O-B" on a sick bag in a lavatory.

The "bomb threat" that prompted a United Airlines plane bound for Los Angeles to turn around and return to Sydney was the letters "B-O-B" on a sick bag in a lavatory.

Fearing that it stood for "bomb on board", the pilot turned back 90 minutes into the flight on Tuesday. Australian authorities treated the incident as a full-scale emergency, with airports along the eastern seaboard placed on alert. The 747 was met by police and emergency vehicles, and Sydney's international airport was closed for several hours.

But, yesterday, flight attendants said they commonly used the letters for "best on board", indicating the best-looking male or female passenger. "Someone sitting in a particular seat, to put it quite bluntly, looks good," Michael Mijatov, an official of the Flight Attendants Association of Australia, said.

Others noted that the letters might simply refer to a man's name. But the Transport Minister, John Anderson, defended the pilot's decision to return to Sydney, with 246 passengers, including a senior US diplomat, on board.

"He would have carefully assessed the risk and he made the decision in the light of the information available to him," Mr Anderson said. "In my view the pilot was right not to run risks."

Australian Federal Police said the 18 air crew and a number of passengers were interviewed after the plane landed, having dumped a full load of fuel. No charges were laid, and the aircraft - with the same pilot, crew and passengers - took off again yesterday.

Superintendent Peter O'Brien said police had established that the note was not left on board from a previous flight.

Mr Anderson said the identity of the note's author might never be known. "It may have been a genuine and serious misunderstanding," he said.

"Nonetheless, someone has been irresponsible at least, and horrendously selfish and stupid at worst, and every effort will be made to find the person responsible."

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