Plane Diverted to London on Bomb Threat
LONDON (AP) _ A bomb threat that mentioned Iraq forced a New York-bound Greek airliner to make an emergency landing Sunday at London’s Stansted Airport escorted by military jets, authorities said.
An airport spokeswoman said the Olympic Airlines plane, with 301 passengers and crew on board, landed in ``full emergency″ status and was safely evacuated.
``It is not believed to be anything out of the ordinary at this stage,″ a Department of Transport spokesman said on condition of anonymity. ``Fortunately nothing has exploded, if indeed there was a bomb on board, but we take all threats seriously.″
The Stansted spokeswoman said an Athens newspaper had received a phone call saying there was a bomb on board the plane.
``Flight 411 Olympic for America has a bomb for Iraq,″ a caller to the Ethnos daily said, according to a tape the newspaper made available to journalists. In a second call, a voice that sounded like a different person said, ``Are you listening? Flight 411 Olympic for America, bomb. America will see. Six o’clock message for you.″
Authorities immediately notified the pilot of the call, and he asked for a military escort.
Britain’s Royal Air Force scrambled planes to assist the Airbus A340 airliner, the Ministry of Defense said. The plane, headed from Athens to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, landed safely at Stansted, north of London, at 3:30 p.m., an airport spokeswoman said.
Olympic said in a statement that it learned of the threat about two hours earlier and notified the pilot immediately.
Chief executive Leonard Vlamis said the passengers had remained calm.
``There was no problem inside the flight, everything was normal,″ he said.
He emphasized that strict security measures had been observed at Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos airport.
Essex police said teams were removing all baggage from the plane for searching.
Assistant Chief Constable Liam Brigginshaw declined Sunday evening to say how long that might take, but the airport’s duty manager, Jim Westcott, said the passengers would be taken to a hotel, which suggested they might stay overnight.
``What we want to be absolutely certain (of) is that we go methodically through the hand luggage, the cabin baggage and the hold baggage as well as the cargo, so inevitably it’s going to take some time,″ Brigginshaw said. ``We’d rather be safe than sorry.″
One passenger, New York firefighter Robert Santandrea, 33, said the emergency landing brought back memories of Sept. 11, 2001, when he responded to the collapsed World Trade Center towers.
``I was praying. I was a little nervous but everyone was very calm″ as the plane changed course to land at Stansted, he said.
Police interviewed the passengers at a reception center. The Airbus stood far from any terminals and fire trucks waited at the ready, several hundred yards away.
Westcott said other flights at Stansted were not disrupted.
The Defense Ministry said the Royal Air Force jets had returned to base.
Greece sent no troops to Iraq, but did not object to the use of a U.S. air base on its soil to support the war. Public sentiment strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion.
Associated Press reporter Miron Varouhakis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.