PARIS – An Air China flight to Beijing returned to Paris on Thursday after an airline employee misunderstood a passenger who was calling on the phone and thought he was reporting a bomb on the plane, Paris airport police said.
China's official Xinhua News Agency initially reported that the plane turned back because of "suspected terrorist information." Not so, according to an official with the airport police prefecture, the state body that oversees security at the city's airports.
The passenger, speaking in English, called Air China to say he was stuck behind police lines that were set up at Charles de Gaulle Airport's Terminal 1 while officers investigated an abandoned package.
"The company thought it was a bomb alert" for the plane, the official said. "It was an error of comprehension."
The official did not identify the passenger or the airline employee. He was not authorized to speak publicly.
Flight CA876 returned to Charles de Gaulle and was separated from other aircraft for an inspection. It was scheduled to take off again at 9 p.m., the official said. The plane had been in the air nearly 40 minutes before heading back, according to the local airport authority.
French police, who patrol the nation's airports and train stations along with soldiers, routinely set up security lines around abandoned packages and protectively blow them up in case they have bombs hidden inside.
China's government has instituted increasingly severe security measures in recent years, particularly targeting the Muslim Uighur and Buddhist Tibetan minorities. It has launched a sweeping "People's War on Terror" in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, home to more than 10 million Muslims.
A sweeping anti-terrorism law took effect in 2016 under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led the country's broadest crackdown on dissent of all kinds in decades.