Published January 21, 2010
A teenage airplane passenger using a Jewish prayer object caused a misunderstanding that led the captain to divert a Kentucky-bound plane to Philadelphia and prompted a visit from a bomb squad.
A 17-year-old boy on US Airways Express Flight 3079 from New York to Louisville was using tefillin, a set of small black boxes containing biblical passages that are attached to leather straps, said Philadelphia police Lt. Frank Vanore.
When used in prayer, one box is strapped to the arm while the other box is placed on the head.
"It's something that the average person is not going to see very often, if ever," FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said.
The teen explained the ritual after being questioned by crew members of the flight, which had left LaGuardia Airport around 7:30 a.m. and was operated by Chautauqua Airlines, authorities said.
Officials with the airline, however, said crew members "did not receive a clear response" when they talked with the teen, according to a statement issued by Republic Airways, which owns Chautauqua.
"Therefore, in the interest of everyone's safety, the crew decided to land in Philadelphia, where a more complete investigation and follow-up with authorities would be possible," the statement said.
The flight left LaGuardia Airport around 7:30 a.m. The plane landed without incident and was met by police, bomb-sniffing dogs and officials from the FBI and Transportation Security Administration.
Authorities said the plane was searched and passengers were questioned. The teen, who is from White Plains, N.Y., and was traveling with his 16-year-old sister, was very cooperative, Vanore said.
"They were more alarmed than we were," Vanore said.
Klaver said the teen and his sister were never in custody, and were cleared to continue their travels.
The flight was carrying 15 passengers and three crew members; travelers were rebooked on other flights, US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant said.
The Republic statement said the airline would use the event "to further strengthen our commitment to both security and customer service."