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20 years

Did AirTran lie about a
terrorist "dry run" on Nov. 17?
On Nov. 17, 2009 AirTran Flight 297, a Boeing 717, aborted its Atlanta to Houston flight. The reason why the flight was aborted (or postponed for two and half hours if you believe AirTran) is open for debate. An AirTran Airways spokesman, Christopher White, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Flight 297 was taxing down the runway, preparing to take off, when a crew member asked a passenger to turn off his cell phone. White told the Journal-Constitution that after several attempts to get the man to turn off his phone, the captain returned the plane to the gate. The passenger was asked to leave the plane. He deplaned without incident. No charges were filed against the man and the plane departed for Houston after a two-and-a-half hour delay.

That's AirTran's official story and, I guess, they're sticking to it. Unfortunately, the "official version" differs slightly from the real version even though Snopes preferred the Atlanta Journal-Constitution version. The Journal-Constitution interviewed a female passenger whose version differed slightly from the version reported by another passenger, Texan Tedd Petruna, who was directly involved in the incident that took place on AirTran 297 as it taxied down the runway, preparing for takeoff. There two versions are close enough that it makes the AirTran version the odd-man-out.

The Journal-Constitution interviewed a female passenger, Nancy Deveikis of Marietta, Georgia, who was seated directly behind the passenger cited by AirTran as the troublemaker. Deveikis told the newspaper that the man was part of a larger group—eleven men and an interpreter. White told the newspaper that when the captain asked the man and his interpreter to leave the plane, the others left as well, although a short time later the men who departed willingly reboarded the same flight. The two who were ejected took a later flight to Houston. Deveikis claimed the man was not talking on a phone, but taking pictures with a camera.

In his statement to the Journal-Constitution, White said it was unclear if the man was talking on the phone, snapping photos with it, or texting; reiterating that he was holding a cell phone and thereby implying that he not holding a camera. While the man apparently could not, or chose not, to speak English, White said, when the flight attendant told his interpreter to tell the man to shut off the cell phone, the cell phone has to be shut off. "We can't taxi with the cell phone on," White said, "and we certainly can't take off. Language barrier or not, [they started] to butt up against interfering with a flight crew."

Deveikis said the whole thing was blown out of proportions as a result of poor communications. Tedd Petruna tells the story from a slightly different perspective.

[He] was returning home from a business trip to Ohio, [to his home in Texas]. If you read the papers on the 18th, you may have been a blurb where an AirTran flight was canceled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off his cell phone before takeoff. It was on Fox.

I was in 1st class coming home. Eleven Muslim men got on the plane in full [Muslim] attire. Two sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane, all the way to the back. As the plane taxied to the runway, the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the first stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at that time. He ignored her as if she was there.

The second man who answered the phone did the same. This took out the second stewardess. In the back of the plane at this time, two younger Muslims—one in the back isle seat and the other one in front of him in the window seat—began to show footage of a porno video they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now, they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes to a strip club, he has to view the woman [through a] mirror, with his back to her...The third stewardess informed them they were not to have electronic devises on at this time. To which one of the men said," Shut up, infidel dog!" She went to take the camcorder he was holding, and he began to scream in her face in Arabic.

Note: Deveikis told the Journal-Constitution that the man was holding a camera, not a cell phone, which Petruna confirms. The AirTran spokesman, White, said he was holding a cell phone. Why would this man be videotaping a disruption of a plane's takeoff? Because that's obviously what he was doing. Was this a practice run to determine if terrorists could disable communications between the cabin and the cockpit as a prelude to taking over more airliners in the near future?

At that instant...[when the stewardess took the camcorder from the Muslim's hands]...all eleven of them got up and started to walk toward the cabin. That's when I had had enough. I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say: "I got your back." I grabbed the man, who had been on the phone, by the arm and said: "You will sit down, or you will be thrown from this plane!" As I "led" him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed the second man and said, "You will do the same!" He protested, but adrenaline was flowing now, and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward, the plane doors opened and three TSA agents and four police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist, for they had this under control. I was happy to oblige. There was some commotion in the back, but within moments all eleven were escorted off the plane. They then unloaded their luggage.

We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happened. Suddenly the door opened and on walked all eleven! Stone-faced, eyes front and robotic. The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having none of it. Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal. She told the TSA agents there was no way she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and they were going through their luggage with a fine tooth comb, and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston. The captain and co-pilot came out and told the agent "...we and our crew will not fly this plane!" After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. Five minutes later the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on.

That's when I had enough. I got up and asked: "What the hell is going on?" I was told to take my seat. They were sorry for the delay, and I would be home shortly. I said, "I'm getting off this plane." The stewardess sternly told me that she could not allow me to get off. Now, I'm mad! I said: "I am a grown man who bought this ticket, who's time is mine, with a family at home. And, I'm going through that door, or I'm going through that door with you under my arm. But, I am going through that door." I heard a voice behind me say, "So, am I." Then everyone behind behind us started to get up, and say the same. Within two minutes, I was walking off the plane when I was met with more agents who asked me to write a statement. I had five hours to kill at this point so, why not? Due to the amount of people who got off that flight, it was canceled. I was supposed to be in Houston at 6 p.m. I got home at 12:30 a.m.

If this wasn't a dry run, I don't know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle [this incident]. They wanted to see how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it. I'm telling you this because I want you to know—the threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes.

Tedd Petruna




Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
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