Response to JFK terror scare
By JOSH MARGOLIN
Last Updated: 6:19 AM, September 24, 2012
Posted: 12:38 AM, September 24, 2012
In a monumental screw-up, Port Authority security at Kennedy Airport last week allowed a plane suspected of carrying terrorists and explosives to taxi right to the gate — while diverting a second aircraft that had nothing to do with the scare to an isolated area, a Post investigation has revealed.
Making matters worse, those allegedly responsible lied to agency officials and tried to cover up their incompetence by blaming the blunder on the Federal Aviation Administration, a source said.
The frightening mistake — which could have cost an untold number of lives — occurred last Monday, when JFK went into full-scale terror alert after someone called in a warning that two inbound flights had explosives in their wheel wells and that would-be hijackers were on board both jets.
The 3 p.m. call — which was later determined to have been a hoax — named an American Airlines flight from San Francisco and a Finnair jet from Helsinki.
The tip included the planes’ flight numbers.
Port Authority police and other agency security officials decided to order the planes to taxi to a remote section of the airport, where the aircraft and their passengers were to be inspected.
But “there were two Finnair flights coming in at about the same time,” the source said.
“They brought the wrong flight to the hijack area and let the other one just go to the gate, where the passengers got off.
“They just screwed it up. Luckily, it was a false alarm.”
PA brass briefed on the operation were told that the confusion was the fault of the Federal Aviation Administration.
But FAA officials insisted they identified the suspect planes based on information from the PA.
“Port Authority police officers instructed the FAA to direct American [Flight] 24 and Finnair [Flight] 5 to the remote area,” federal officials told The Post.
PA chief Pat Foye said he reviewed transcripts and determined his people had been at fault.
“The FAA acted appropriately based on the information provided it in a fast-moving, fluid situation,” he said.
“I have directed our inspector general to review the actions of Port Authority personnel in this matter to ensure we learn from this incident.”
The operation was a mess from start to finish.
At one point during the search, the pilot of the American Airlines flight — who wasn’t told why he had been directed to park in an isolated area — became so angry, he threatened to go rogue.
“OK, we’re surrounded by emergency vehicles,” he told air-traffic controllers. “There’s a reason for this. Somebody’s got to give us a reason, or we’re going to evacuate the aircraft. You’ve got 60 seconds.”
The captain was eventually told what was going on.
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