PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man flying home to Texas to celebrate his 29th birthday instead spent Thursday as the unwitting victim of a midair explosives hoax that forced the plane's return to Philadelphia and him being escorted off at gunpoint, only to end up getting arrested in Texas on outstanding warrants.
The initial scare was determined to be a hoax after authorities searched the Dallas-bound US Airways jet and questioned the man, who did nothing wrong and was the victim of "a pretty nasty trick," Philadelphia police Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan said. Police said they were acting on a tip they received that morning.
Officials would not name the man, but Philadelphia resident Christopher Shell identified himself in a phone call with The Associated Press as the passenger removed from the plane. He declined further comment.
Hours later, Shell was arrested on outstanding warrants when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, airport spokesman David Magana said. Magana said the warrants are from North Texas law enforcement agencies but declined further comment.
Shell's Facebook page was filled with references to the episode in Philadelphia and photos of him aboard the aircraft before departure.
"We just spent a half-hour in the air to be notified that the plane, 'has technical difficulties' and had to fly back! Flight 1267 CANCELED," Shell later wrote, apparently unaware he was the reason for the return.
Police at Philadelphia International Airport received a call around 7:30 a.m. that named a passenger who was on his way to Texas and said he was carrying a dangerous substance, Sullivan said.
The name matched a passenger on Flight 1267 to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, prompting officials to turn the aircraft around after it had flown a third of the way across Pennsylvania. Passengers said they were told the plane was having electrical problems.
After landing, the airplane taxied to a remote section of the airport, where law enforcement vehicles surrounded it.
Passenger Steve McNeal, of Milton, in central Pennsylvania, said he was sitting next to Shell when five heavily armed officials boarded the plane.
"They turned the gun and pointed it at the guy sitting right next to me. I was shocked," McNeal said after the flight eventually made its way to Dallas. "I had been talking to him on the way out for the first 15 minutes of the flight. Nothing seemed abnormal."
Another passenger, Lisa Flanagan, from Philadelphia, said it looked as though Shell "was in shock. He didn't know what was going on."