A woman on a trans-Atlantic flight diverted to Boston for security concerns passed several notes to crew members, urinated on the cabin floor and made comments the crew believed were references to al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks, according to an affidavit filed Thursday.
Catherine C. Mayo, 59, of Braintree, Vt., was to appear in federal court later Thursday on a charge of interfering with a flight crew after disrupting United 923 as it flew from London to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
The flight, with 182 passengers and 12 crew members, landed safely with the escort of two F-15s after the pilot declared an emergency on board.
The scare came just a week after London authorities said they foiled a terror plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights. Federal officials quickly determined there were no indications of terrorism ties.
According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Daniel Choldin filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, flight attendants noticed Mayo about 90 minutes into the flight because she was pushing against the aircraft bulkhead. When the attendant told her to return to her seat, Mayo said she wanted to speak to an air marshal and made statements about knowing that people wanted to see what was in her bag.
FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz confirmed Thursday that authorities found a screwdriver and an unspecified number of cigarette lighters in her bag, items which are banned under new security regulations. Marcinkiewicz also confirmed that matches were found Mayo's bag.
She also had a bottle of water, which did not appear to be supplied by the flight crew. It wasn't clear how the items made it through airport security.
Since a foiled terror plot surfaced in London last week, airports have tightened security in both the United Kingdom and the U.S. Liquids and gels have been banned from carry-on luggage, and even tighter restrictions are in place in Britain. The terror plot apparently involved using such liquids to make and detonate bombs aboard planes.
Later during the flight, according to the affidavit, Mayo asked a flight attendant: "Is this a training flight for United Flight 93?" The flight attendant didn't know if she made a mistake because the flight was actually Flight 923, or if she was referring to Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.
During that time, she was "biting her fingers, rubbing her feet and in a constant state of movement. She appeared very agitated," the affidavit said.
She wrote in a note and said to flight attendants that she had been in a country illegally, and later said she had photographs of Pakistan.
"She stated that the photographs would be awful, and she indicated that they related to the people that she had been with in the mountains of Pakistan," the affidavit said.
Her U.S. passport indicated that on Aug. 15 she had left Pakistan and entered the United Kingdom, according to the affidavit. As many as 17 people have been arrested in Pakistan in connection with the London terror plot.
Flight attendants summoned the captain, who spoke to Mayo. During the conversation, she made reference to there being "six steps to building some unspecified thing."
"She made reference to being with people associated with two words. She stated that she could not say what the two words were because the last time that she had said the two words she had been kicked off of a flight in the United Arab Emirates," according to the affidavit.
The captain and purser both believed that she was referring to al-Qaida, Choldin wrote.
About 35 minutes later, when she tried to go to the bathroom, the flight attendants directed her to a different lavatory. Instead, she pulled down her pants and urinated on the floor, Choldin wrote in the affidavit, which was based on his interviews and those of other federal officials.
At that point, the captain ordered her restrained. Two male passengers helped a flight attendant tackle Mayo and restrain her in plastic cuffs. She remained seated in the galley area of plane until the flight landed, according to the affidavit.
Mayo waived her right to a probable cause hearing on a charge of interfering with a flight crew.
New information underlines how close the plotters were to mounting attacks.