AirTran Flight 297 Incident (UPDATE)

The original story has a group of muslims acting in a threatening manner on this flight, which after the Flying Imams episode, (http://sfcmac.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/several-dry-runs-then-lawsuits-for-islamophobia/) isn’t far-fetched. It turns out to be a mixture of misidentification, miscommunication, and a fabricated e-mail on the part of someone who was never on board the flight.

This was the story in the news reports:

On November 17, an incident took place aboard AirTran Flight 297 scheduled to fly from Atlanta Hartsfield Airport to Houston that the media does not want to cover and everyone from the airline to the TSA and other government agencies want to keep very quiet.

The reasons, I have been told, is fear of predatory lawsuits, negative publicity from accusations of religious profiling, and the obligatory subjugation to mindless mandatory Muslim sensitivity training that make a mockery of our American system of values. Interestingly, one airline official told me “we don’t want to become another flight 300,” which is a reference to a very similar scenario that took place aboard US Airways Flight 300 exactly three years ago.

I was first contacted about this incident two days after it happened by a passenger who was aboard AirTran Flight 297. (See email story below) Based on the allegations made by this passenger, we conducted additional research, interviews and investigation, all of which takes time to insure accuracy, and are now able to release our report of the incident that took place aboard that aircraft. Be prepared to be shocked, angered, and perhaps saddened by our national and corporate acquiescence to mafia-type tactics by Islamists who are engaged in a full frontal assault, and laughing about it.

Unsurprisingly, the facts we developed during the course of our investigation are inconsistent with those being reported in the media, despite the media having the responsibility to report the truth.

The incident

A group of thirteen men dressed in traditional Muslim attire were among 73 passengers who boarded AirTran Flight 297 on Tuesday, 17 November 2009, a routine flight scheduled to depart Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, gate C-16 at 4:43 PM ET to Houston Hobby Airport. Reports developed by this investigator found two witnesses who observed direct interaction among all of these Muslim men at the terminal.

As the passengers boarded the aircraft, two of the Muslim men took seats in first class, while the remaining eleven were seated throughout the remaining rows of the aircraft. Most had carrying-on bags that they stowed in the overhead compartments above their seats.

As the aircraft began to taxi to the runway, a female flight attendant was beginning to issue the normal passenger advisories over the PA system. Almost on cue at the time passengers were told to turn off all electronic devices, one of the Muslim men seated in the front of the plane began to use his cell phone in a manner that was described by a flight attendant and passenger “as deliberate and obvious.” He was talking loudly in Arabic, nearly at the level of the flight attendant. Some reports suggest that this man actually called another Muslim passenger, although this has not been immediately confirmed. It is possible, however, as another passenger reported that a Muslim man seated toward the rear of the plane answered his cellular phone at the same time the man in the front began using his.

At this point, the flight attendant in the front of the plane approached the Muslim man using his telephone and instructed him to immediately turn it off. A second female flight attendant did the same at the rear of the aircraft. Concurrent with this cellular activity, two other Muslim men seated adjacent near the middle of the aircraft began operating what one passenger described as a palm type camcorder, ostensibly to view previously taken footage. It is possible, according to one flight attendant interviewed by this investigator, however, that the camcorder was being used for recording purposes. Whatever its use, a third flight attendant, aware of the incidents taking place in the front and rear of the aircraft, approached the two men for the purpose of securing the camcorder. At least two passengers reported that the men became abusive to the flight attendant and initially refused to comply with her request.

It was at this time that most of the passengers began to notice the multiple incidents involving over a dozen men dressed in Islamic attire. Next, as if previously rehearsed, at least ten of the 13 Muslim men aboard the aircraft began to leave their seats at the same time. At least one passenger stated she observed one of the Muslim passengers using his cell phone to take photos of other passengers on the aircraft, while one other Muslim passenger sang loudly in Arabic. According to information provided to this investigator from one of the flight crew who was alerted to an onboard emergency, the aircraft was now being taxied back to the terminal. The TSA, FAA and FBI were notified.

At the terminal

Once back at the terminal, the thirteen men were escorted from the aircraft by TSA and security officials. According to a report from an airline security official, their baggage was also removed and searched, the search finding nothing of apparent danger. According to a law enforcement official interviewed by telephone by this investigator on Monday, investigation revealed that all of the Muslim passengers are acquainted with each other and are associated with (or have ties to) a large Islamic center that has been the subject of investigative interest.

According to one aircraft passenger I interviewed, what happened next was “unbelievable” and caused a great deal of upset among the aircraft passengers and flight crew (some who opted off the flight in anger, fear, or admittedly, a mixture of both emotions).

After a lengthy delay while officials dealt with these Muslim passengers, ten (one uncorroborated report suggests 11) of the Muslim passengers were permitted to re-board the same aircraft to complete their flight. Some passengers and flight crew, traumatized by the blatant actions of the Muslim passengers, refused to travel with the Muslims who caused this orchestrated disturbance.

The flight continues

According to flight logs and information from one of the flight crew who continued with the flight, AirTran 297 ultimately departed Atlanta and arrived in Houston later that evening. The flight, however, was not without its curious incidents by the very same Muslim men who caused the initial delay and disturbance.

During the flight, one passenger interviewed by this investigator described the behavior of two of the Muslim passengers as less overt but still suspicious in nature. Without apparent legitimate purpose, one Muslim passenger moved a stowed bag from one part of the aircraft to another, well away from his seated position. Another spoke loudly in Arabic, with all appearing to interact in one form or another.

Ultimately, the flight landed safely and despite the early incidents in Atlanta, the Muslim passengers appeared able to leave freely from the terminal.

Comments from flight crew and airline personnel

As initially stated, proper and accurate investigation takes time to corroborate eyewitness accounts, which are often unreliable, contradictive and in cases like this, colored by emotion. Having interviewed a total of seven-(7) individuals directly involved in this incident over the last several days, including two law enforcement officers who handled the after action reports, the situation pertaining to the initial 13 and remaining 10 or 11 Muslim men allowed to continue their travels was far greater than an incident involving the unauthorized use of a cell phone that resulted in a minor flight delay, as reported by the mainstream media.

According to one airline security official, “This was a deliberate, well planned attempt to disrupt a domestic flight that was organized in advance of the boarding of these [Muslim] passengers. The purpose of their actions appeared to be multi-faceted, not the least of which was an attempt to change their status from passengers to victims of religious profiling. The situation was handled in a manner that we believe might have avoided an incident like USAir had in 2006, where everyone from the passengers who reported suspicious behavior to the airline was subjected to legal action by the Muslim passengers.”

While litigation might have been avoided, passengers and flight crew remain traumatized, and our air travel system was unnecessarily disrupted during one of the busiest air travel weeks in the U.S. The agenda of the Islamists behind this incident is clear, yet no one in the media seems to have the desire to expose these ideological cretins for what they are.
http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/17508

UPDATE: The email sent by “Ted Petruna” turned out to be a hoax:

It’s a little easier to understand why a Houston man who claimed to have thwarted a potential terrorist attack on a flight leaving Atlanta has not answered repeated requests to tell his story.

He was not on the plane, AirTran Airways says.

“After conducting additional research into this situation, we have verified, according to flight manifests [legally binding documents] that the individual that allegedly created a first-hand account of events on-board AirTran Airways Flight 297, a Theodore Petruna, was never actually on-board the flight,” AirTran said in a statement, which the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the first to obtain.

An e-mail from a Tedd Petruna, in which he told the AJC via a Facebook message Friday was intended only for friends and family, made the rounds online this week after a friend apparently forwarded it to others.

……Keith Robinson didn’t make it to the gate in time to board Flight 297 for its initial attempt to depart. Robinson, a Texas chaplain, said he watched as upset crew members and passengers poured back into the terminal after the incident on the plane.

“You could tell something was going on,” Robinson told the AJC. Robinson said a passenger getting off the plane asked him whether he intended to get on the plane and fly to Houston.

“I’m a chaplain, that’s where I’m supposed to be,” Robinson said he told the man.

Robinson said the flight to Houston was a quiet one, giving him time to write down his account of what he had seen.

“The feeling that I have from what I observed is there was intentional intimidation,” Robinson said. “It was almost an ethnic bullying situation.”

Robinson recounted what he witnessed for reporters at KHOU-TV in Houston on Thursday. Petruna, however, told the station that he could not appear on camera.

In an e-mail to the AJC Saturday evening, Robinson said whether or not Petruna was on the flight, the incident aboard the plane caused fear among the flight’s crew members.
A replacement flight crew was brought on board, but that is not uncommon, AirTran said.
A delay such as this one could quickly affect scheduling for later flights, according to AirTran spokesman Christopher White.
http://www.ajc.com/business/airtran-hero-wasn-t-226517.html

An excerpt from Petruna’s email:

“One week ago, I went to Ohio on business and to see my father. On Tuesday, November 17, I returned home. If you read the papers, you may have seen a blurb where an AirTran flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off of his cell phone before takeoff.  It was on Fox. 
That was NOT what happened!
I was in first class coming home. Eleven muslim men got on the plane in full attire. Two sat in first class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back.  As the plane taxied to the runway, the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the first stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she wasn’t there.
http://www.khou.com/news/E-mail-about-Air-Tran-flight-297–78469757.html

Snopes.com checked out the story and concluded that the assumption of the incident being a terrorist “dry-run” “remains unsubstantiated”
http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/flight297.asp

AirTran’s rebuttal:

On November 17, 2009, AirTran flight 297 was scheduled to travel from Atlanta to Houston-Hobby. During taxi a passenger was non-compliant with Crew Members, using a cell phone and taking pictures. The flight taxied back to the gate and the passenger, who did not speak English, and his companion acting as his interpreter were asked to de-plane. They were met by customer service personnel and TSA.

The passengers were allowed to re-board and continued on the flight after speaking with AirTran and TSA representatives. The flight was delayed by more than two hours.
http://www.insideairtran.com/?p=2200

They never specified what language was spoken by the passenger and his interpreter.

In the wake of 9/11 and the Flying Imams episode, this kind of story (although embellished) is plausible. It’s easy to see why it gained notoriety.

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