MEXICO CITY – Mexican investigators are evaluating a Bolivian pastor who hijacked a jetliner for possible mental illness, and trying to figure out how he managed to slip through Cancun Airport security with a fake bomb in his luggage.
Jose Flores, 44, pulled out the device, which he later described as a "a juice can ... with some little lights I attached," as the airplane was approaching Mexico City Wednesday afternoon.
The device was a dud, but his sudden move and demands sparked an hour-long runway standoff that kept the country in suspense until the 103 passengers and seven crew members escaped unharmed. The incident ended peacefully when armed police dramatically raided the airplane.
Authorities said the entire incident was preventable because the fake bomb should have been spotted during routine airport screening.
"It was certainly something that should have been detected and stopped," said Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna. The device included cables, three sand-filled juice cans and a digital clock, he said.
Federal prosecutors said Flores may face terrorism charges but is also undergoing mental evaluations. If he is found to be mentally ill, authorities said it's possible he could be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Flores told authorities that Wednesday's date — 9-9-09 — is the satanic number 666 turned upside down. Speaking to reporters after he was detained, Flores smilingly told them: "Christ is coming soon."
He said he had received diving revelation that an enormous earthquake would soon strike Mexico and that he hijacked the plane to force a meeting with President Felipe Calderon.
In Bolivia, Flores's mother said she was confident that divine justice would save her son from doom.
She said his actions were wrong, "but I believe that God will bring victory," said Mary Pereira.