Friday, May 13, 2005

Man's name gets flight diverted


Man's name gets flight diverted
By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

An Air France jetliner was diverted to Maine on Thursday after Homeland Security authorities discovered that the name of one of its 169 passengers was on the government's no-fly list.

The passenger, who was traveling with his wife and two children, turned out to be the wrong man. His name was one letter off from that of the terrorist, and his birth date was the same, according to two sources familiar with the incident who asked to remain anonymous out of security concerns.

"After a thorough interview and review of the facts on the ground by Customs and Border Protection officials, the individual in question was deemed admissible to the United States," spokeswoman Kristi Clemens said.

She would not release the man's name or nationality, citing his privacy.

The flight from Paris was headed to Boston when the Transportation Security Administration diverted it to an airport in Bangor, Maine, at 2:30 ET, Air France said. The man was questioned, and it was determined that he was not the suspect on the list, Clemens said. The flight continued to Boston without the man and his family, Clemens said.

The latest case of mistaken identity involving a foreign flight bound for the U.S. caused a relatively short delay. After the man and his family were removed from the Airbus A-330 and the plane was swept for explosives, it took off for Boston. Air France said it landed an hour and 40 minutes late.

Authorities did not say how or why the man was allowed to board the plane in Paris, given that his name was so close a match to one on the no-fly list.

To prevent known or suspected terrorists from entering the United States, airlines are supposed to check passengers names against the no-fly list provided by the U.S. government before the plane boards and takes off. Then, within 15 minutes of a plane's departure, airlines are required to provide U.S. officials with names and other information about the passengers so they can be checked against terrorist watch lists.

By the times those lists are checked, planes are typically well on their way. So if a problem comes up, the planes are generally diverted to an airport in the USA in a sparsely populated area.

The U.S. government is negotiating with airlines to get the passenger lists 60 minutes before departure. Most airlines are resisting, saying flights would be delayed. But several are participating in a pilot program to see if it works.

The Bangor airport has received several such planes, including one on Sept. 21 carrying the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. Yusuf Islam, as he is now known, was on a flight from London to Washington that was diverted because he is on the no-fly list for alleged connections to terrorist groups. Islam denies any such connections.