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Plane forced to make emergency landing after discovering abandoned digital camera


Covered by ABC News earlier today, a United Airlines flight headed to Geneva, Switzerland from Newark, New Jersey had to make an emergency landing in Boston last night after flight attendants discovered a suspicious digital camera. The camera was wrapped in a air sickness bag and shoved into a pocket in front of an empty seat on the airplane. The Boeing 767 took off from the Newark airport around 6 p.m. with 168 people on board and was in the air for a couple hours before discovering the digital camera. After flight attendants were unable to match up the digital camera to an owner on board the aircraft, the pilot notified law enforcement officials and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) sent two F-15 fighter jets to escort flight 956 to Boston’s Logan International Airport. 

united-flight-956-pathAccording to air traffic controllers at the Boston airport, they received an emergency call from from the pilot. Communicating between each other, one air traffic controller stated “I can’t delay him.He’s got a big problem. I got to get him in here…I’ve got an emergency coming in quick.”

The plane landed in Boston around 9:15 p.m. and all passengers on board were forced to disembark from the plane in order to be screened again by airport security. Another air traffic controller stated “We’ve instructed the passengers to leave everything on the plane including their handbags.”

Security officials boarded the empty plane and removed the abandoned digital camera. They found the camera to be completely harmless after an X-ray, thus didn’t have any need for a sweep of the aircraft with bomb-sniffing dogs. United officials later traced the owner of the digital camera to a passenger of an earlier flight that simply forgot to take the camera when they departed from the aircraft. However, the passengers of flight 956 were forced to spent the night in Boston and had to wait until 3 p.m. today to resume the flight to Geneva, Switzerland. United did pay for the hotel accommodations though.

united seatsDescribed as a “small, personal-use camera,” it’s likely that the camera was a standard point-and-shoot digital camera. United didn’t release any information regarding the brand or model of the device.

According to counter-terrorism experts, pilots and flight attendants have been told to be on the lookout for anything abandoned on a flight that could potentially house an explosive device. For instance, al Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was reported to be working on explosives that can get through airport security without triggering any alarms and the housing of a digital camera was used in one of those attempts.

According to United Airlines, thousands of items are left on the aircraft by passengers each month. Similar to other airlines, United provides a Web form to submit information about your lost item. In the case of electronic items, they also request the device’s serial number or login information to verify that it really belongs to the passenger. Some airlines will actually hold onto the item for a period of time before shipping it to the off site lost-and-found office. For instance, U.S. Airways holds lost items at the destination airport up to 72 hours. 

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