Maine Flight Delayed by 'Threatening Note'

A passenger was removed from a Maine-bound US Airways flight and detained at LaGuardia Airport yesterday after he alarmed the crew with a bizarre, threatening note, authorities said.

Chautauqua Airlines Flight 3068, which was operating for US Airways, was headed to Portland from New York but was delayed for two hours after a "non-specific threatening note" written by one of the passengers was handed to the plane's single flight attendant, said Warren Wilkinson, a spokesman for Chautauqua Airlines.

"He said he had AIDS, and the shedding of his blood and all our blood would cure all sickness," said passenger Tammy Budek, of Sharpsville, Pa., who first received the letter.

The contents of the note were not released but Wilkinson described the message as "rambling."

The plane, a 50-passenger Amber Air regional jet with 46 passengers, including former Maine Governor Angus King, was due to take off shortly after 1 p.m. As it was taxiing on the runway, the passenger handed the note to Budek, who gave it to the flight attendant.

The flight attendant alerted the crew and the pilot was concerned enough to head back to the terminal, where they were met by Port Authority police, said Port Authority spokesman Alan Hicks.

"The crew responded exactly as they were trained," Wilkinson said. "In this kind of situation, you err on the side of safety."

The young man, who was not identified, was removed from the plane and detained, Hicks said. Passengers said the man had been removed at gunpoint.

The remaining 45 passengers were removed, and the plane was searched in a secure location by the Port Authority Police K-9 unit, Hicks said.

The security incident rattled some passengers who phoned relatives and friends in Maine about the cause of the delay. At Portland International Jetport, Nancy Zerr, of Lyman, Maine, said she got a nervous call from her daughter, who was heading to Maine with her boyfriend.

"There's something going on, and there are guns," Zerr said her daughter told her.

A heavy security presence, including the Transportation Security Administration, FBI and the New York Police Department - all part of the FBI-New York Police Department Joint Terrorism Task Force - responded to the incident.

The plane was cleared by security personnel and took off around 3:30 p.m. without the suspicious passenger, Hicks said.

Despite the delay, several passengers thanked Budek for passing the note along when they got to Portland. King, a two-term governor, left the airport in a hurry, saying the incident "wasn't a big deal."

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz and FBI spokeswoman Christine Monaco confirmed the passenger was interviewed and taken into custody by Port Authority police.

Hicks said the man was detained at the airport for about four hours before he was taken to an area hospital for observation, Hicks said. The note he passed to the attendant, Hicks said, was not found to contain any "specific threat."

"He's not under arrest," Hicks said, adding no charges have been filed against the man.

Staff writers Susan Todd and Paola Loriggio and Elbert Aull of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

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