MIAMI – As American Airlines Flight 63 boarded in Paris, some of the 185 passengers headed for Miami noticed the tall, roughly bearded and ponytailed man who stood alone.
"He had a blank look," said Nicholas Green, a 27-year-old French trader. "The people who had seen him, remembered him."
About two or three hours later, the man later identified by French authorities as Tariq Raja of Sri Lanka tried to light explosives hidden in his shoe, but was subdued by a flight attendant and four male passengers, authorities and passengers said.
The plane was diverted to Boston's Logan International Airport, escorted by a pair of F-15 fighter jets. At Logan, passengers spent 10 hours being searched and questioned. Some apparently stayed in Boston but most boarded another plane and resumed their flight to Miami, where they landed at 6:02 a.m. EST Sunday, more than 24 hours after their journey began.
Flight 63 was supposed to take off about 11 a.m. Paris time Saturday — about 5 a.m. EST — but was delayed for a half-hour by a strike of workers at Charles de Gaulle International Airport.
"We're French — we have strikes," said Jacques Valle'au, a Parisian fashion designer who traveled to Miami with his wife and 9-month-old son for a 10-day Christmas holiday.
Valle'au and his family settled into coach, as did Geoffrey Bessin, a New York-born software designer who lives in France, and Green. Peter Ensink, a Swiss salesman, sat in business class.
Raja, who authorities say was carrying a British passport that identified him as Richard Colvin Reid, also sat in coach, just behind the wing.
Monique Danison, 20, returning home to Mission Viejo, Calif., after a study program in France, told The Orange County Register by telephone from Boston that she noticed the man when she boarded.
"He looked like he was on something," she said. "I remember thinking, 'If he's a terrorist, he's a moron,' because he stood out when I saw him."
The flight was routine for the first two or three hours, according to about 10 passengers who spoke to reporters. Raja refused his lunch; the choice was turkey or salmon. Bessin listened to music on headphones and Valle'au tended to his child.
Then, some passengers smelled something burning — perhaps matches, perhaps plastic. Smoking was prohibited on the flight and an attendant went to investigate.
Passengers said the female flight attendant, whose name was not immediately released, suddenly jumped on Raja and screamed "He bit me, he bit me."
Four men pounced on Raja, passengers said, and wrestled some burning material from his hand. One thinks a flight attendant hit Raja with a fire extinguisher.
The men held Raja while other passengers handed over belts to tie him. One saw a flight attendant bring plastic handcuffs.
One man pulled back Raja's hair while two French doctors used sedatives from the plane's medical kit to incapacitate him.
"They injected him with two or three shots," Green said. At least two men stayed with him the rest of the flight.
Most of the passengers, while scared, didn't realize Raja apparently had explosives in his shoe. They thought he was simply a drunk or drug addict who had gotten out of hand.
"They asked us to please remain seated," Ensink said. "The way they explained it to me is some guy was drunk and he was trying to light his shoes."
Some passengers described the remainder of the flight as somewhat tense. Some people laughed at the movie, the comedy Legally Blonde, but a few looked at their fellow passengers wondering if there were accomplices.
"Some thought this was a terrorist attack," Bessin said. "A lot of others thought it was taken care of, and nothing bad happened, so let's go back to our movie. It was pretty relaxed, actually, at least where I was sitting."
At Boston, a SWAT team stormed the airplane and took Raja into custody.
The other passengers initially were left in an unsecure area inside the terminal.
One Frenchman, who identified himself only as Michel, said he and other passengers were able to leave the terminal, walking outside the main entrance where they stood around and smoked until police and security guards took them back inside.
"If he had an accomplice, he's gone," Michel said.
Several passengers said they were then kept in a holding area for about six hours without food, water or restrooms.
In Miami, weary travelers were greeted warmly by friends and relatives, and Ensink said they were grateful for their escape.
"This will be the best Christmas ever," he said.