WASHINGTON – Canadian law enforcement officials took charge of a Virgin Atlantic passenger jet that was escorted by fighter jets to Halifax International Airport on Friday after it sent out a false hijacking (search) alarm en route from London to New York.
The airliner landed safely at 11 a.m. EDT and was met by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Border Service Agency, according to Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Katie Montgomery.
Members of a SWAT team could be seen entering the Virgin Atlantic (search) aircraft where it sat on the tarmac with the passengers and crew remaining on board.
The airline issued a statement saying it is investigating the technical reason for the false alarm and that passengers have been informed of developments.
The plane landed after Canadian fighter jets scrambled to escort the plane after the pilot continued to issue the hijack code, 7500. Airline officials said the hijack signal was a false alarm.
"Virgin Atlantic's Flight Operations department is in contact with the flight deck and crew on the aircraft and they have confirmed that this is a false alarm," the airline said in a statement. "Virgin Atlantic is investigating the technical reason for this. Passengers have been kept fully informed."
Saying the diversion to Canada was a "precautionary measure," the airline added that it still plans to get the plane and its passengers to JFK "as soon as possible today."
"At no point was safety compromised," the statement read. "The safety and welfare of our crew and passengers is Virgin Atlantic's top priority. Virgin Atlantic would like to thank passengers for their understanding and regrets any inconvenience caused."
Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman Brooke Lawer said the transponder alert was a "false alert." The Airbus A340-600 aircraft was carrying 273 passengers and 16 crew.
"We have put it [the plane] in isolation and we are currently investigating right now ... we're really in the very early stages in the investigation," Gina Connell, a spokeswoman for the airport in Halifax where the plane has landed, told FOX News.
Connell said fighter jets (search) escorting a plane to a diverted site in such situation is "a standard precautionary procedure."
According to the Virgin Atlantic Web site, Virgin Atlantic Flight 45 departed London at 9:35 a.m. local time and was originally scheduled to arrive at JFK at 12:12 p.m. EDT.
Before landing, contact was made by the pilot, who said everything is fine, U.S. homeland security officials said. The fighter jets were sent out of extreme caution.
An aviation source told FOX News that there were no matches from any terrorism watch lists (search) for any individuals on that flight.
The source said the fighter jets had met the flight in the air and the pilots reported not seeing anything unusual on board. The fighter jets fly along side the plane in question and the pilots are able to see both the pilots in the cockpit, as well as the passengers. No one looked particularly alarmed, the aviation source told FOX News.
"All this is good procedure and it shows there's been some good preparation," said Col. David Hunt, a FOX News military analyst who is familiar with Virgin Atlantic's security procedures. "I'll tell you, three years ago, they wouldn't have had these planes scrambled at all."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president was briefed about the plane incident while clearing brush on his Texas ranch and was being kept apprised of the situation.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.