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Threatened Plane Lands in Detroit After Most Passengers Cancel

December 31, 1989

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) _ A Northwest Airlines DC-10 landed without incident Saturday despite a bomb threat that prompted more than three-quarters of the passengers to cancel their reservations on the flight from Paris.

″This is probably a safer flight than any other to be on,″ said Jennifer Ruskin, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. ″The interviews now with all the media are probably the scariest part of the flight.″

Only 22 passengers and nine crew members were on board Flight 51, said Northwest spokesman Kevin Whalen, who was on the flight. Airline officials in Paris said earlier that the plane carried 28 passengers and 14 crew members.

″We landed on the runway, then we taxied out at least a quarter of a mile, then we were bused to the terminal,″ Whalen said.

″No one on board was forced to work this flight,″ Whalen said of the crew. ″I slept. Most passengers enjoyed a lot of personal attention. It was almost like having a private airplane.″

The plane left Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris earlier Saturday and landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airpiort in Romulus shortly before 5 p.m. EST, an airport spokesman said. The jet can hold 284 passengers.

A telephone caller said the flight would be targeted to avenge the life sentences given two Palestinians convicted in a series of European bombings, including an attack on a Northwest Airlines office.

The plane’s departure was delayed two hours by fog and intensive security checks.

″I wasn’t worried a bit, especially after all the security we went through to get on the flight,″ said Mike Matour, 22, of Philadelphia. ″They checked our bags two and three times and then they checked us.″

Norman Luck, a reporter sent on the flight by the London Daily Express, said he was a little concerned after the plane took off.

He said Whalen told the passengers that ″once we were on board and those doors shut, that the plane was safe, but I don’t really know about that because throughout the flight I watched the attendants keep checking the sky cabs, the cupboards and underneath the seats.″

Some of the 105 passengers who canceled said in Paris that Northwest should have informed them earlier of the threat.

″They’ve had my telephone number since yesterday morning locally and nobody had called me with any information of any kind,″ said Ken Reichenbach of Portsmouth, Va. ″What I’ve learned, I’ve learned from third-hand information.″

The airline said Friday it would rely on the media to spread early word of the bomb threat. Some passengers learned of it only upon arriving at the airport Saturday.

″I would have been on pins and needles the whole way,″ said Camille Major, 21, of Madison, Wis., who was headed home after three weeks in Europe. ″Six hundred dollars isn’t worth my life. My vacation was bad and this just tops it off.″

Northwest said passengers could change to other flights or airlines with no penalty, and most accepted the offer.

Security officers inspected every piece of hand luggage before the passengers boarded, causing a brief initial delay from the scheduled 12:40 p.m. departure.

Armed officers of the air and border police and riot police with dogs shepherded passengers through scrupulous check-in procedures. Each piece of luggage was X-rayed on freeze-frame video machines.

Even a small souvenir bust of Napoleon was put on the belt and X-rayed separately.

All carry-on luggage was searched by hand. The Hsia family of Foster City, Calif., near San Francisco, waited 45 minutes before they were cleared for passage to the departure lounge.

On Thursday night, ABC News, quoting sources it did not identify, reported that a man with a Middle Eastern accent called Northwest’s Detroit office and said Flight 51 would be bombed in retaliation for the convictions and life sentences given two Palestinians convicted in Sweden this month in a series of bombings.

One of the two, Mohammed Abu Talb, is a suspect in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

He and co-defendant Marten Imandi were sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the 1985 bombing of a Northwest office in Copenhagen that killed one person and wounded 20. They also were convicted in three other bombings in Denmark and the Netherlands.

It was not clear when the threat was received.

Pierre Quilici, deputy chief of France’s Air and Border Police, said U.S. authorities passed on word of the threat several days ago.

Northwest spokesman Douglas Miller in St. Paul, Minn., said Northwest informed the FAA, FBI, CIA and foreign agencies of the threat and was advised by the FBI not to disclose any other details about the threat, including where or when it was made.

The airline announced the threat Thursday after reports of it emerged in Europe.

The Federal Aviation Administration and airlines have come under pressure to disclose security risks after the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people. A threat against Pan Am before that flight was circulated within the U.S. government but was not made public.

FAA spokesman John Leyden said Friday U.S. airlines receive about 300 threats each year.

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