BANGOR, Maine - The father of a former Air Force intelligence specialist was left to wonder why his son went from leading a "squeaky clean" life to being accused of claiming he had explosives aboard a trans-Atlantic flight, forcing the jetliner and its passengers to spend the night in Bangor.
Delta Air Lines Flight 273 from Paris to Atlanta was diverted to Maine because the passenger said he had a fake passport and explosives aboard the plane, U.S. officials said. The passport was real, law enforcement officials said, but there were no explosives on the Airbus A330.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. Richard Stansberry was perplexed after government officials told him that his son, Derek Stansberry, 26, of Riverview, Fla., had been detained Tuesday at Bangor International Airport.
"My son's profession in the military required he live a squeaky clean life," Richard Stansberry said.
In Washington, Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Linda Pepin said the man detained on Flight 273 was a senior airman and worked as an intelligence specialist. She said he was on active duty from June 2005 to 2009 and was last stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Charde Houston, an all-star forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, was on the flight. She said she saw no clues on the handcuffed man's face as he was led off the plane on Tuesday.
"He looked extremely calm, like a blank face. No emotion," Houston said. Passengers were told they'd complete their flight to Atlanta late Wednesday morning, while Derek Stansberry remained in Bangor awaiting an appearance in U.S. District Court. There were 235 passengers and 13 crew members aboard Flight 273 when it landed safely just after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bangor International Airport.
Passengers said there were some tense moments but everyone remained calm and there was no shouting or ruckus. "It was scary for three hours, but we bonded and kept each other's spirits high," said Nancy Albertson, of Charlottesville, Va. Passengers prayed together, she said.
The pilot eventually explained the situation, said Adithya Sustry, of Chicago. "He basically came on about an hour after the drama started and said, 'There's been a security threat and basically we think we have it under control. But we are going to land in Bangor.' They did not get any more specific about what the security situation was," Sustry said.
After the man was apprehended, flight attendants asked passengers - including several children - in the back of the plane to move to empty seats in the front of the aircraft. They also collected passengers' pillows and blankets, piling the cushions in the back of the plane. It was not immediately clear what was the significance of the pillows being taken from passengers.
After a failed attack aboard a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day, for a period of time there were extra pat-downs before boarding flights, no getting up for the last hour of flights and some passengers reported being told they couldn't have items in their laps, including laptops and pillows.
Among the passengers spending the night in Bangor was J. Alexander, from the television show "America's Next Top Model." "Some crazy person almost screwed up my trip," Alexander told reporters, describing the flight ordeal, after clearing customs. "Now I can say I've experienced that and I don't want it to happen again."
Richard Stansberry, of Apollo Beach, Fla., said he had not been able to speak to his son. "Unfortunately, I don't think they'd let him call me," the elder Stansberry said. "In a situation like this, the government is doing what it is supposed to do."
The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights. It's the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights, and it's the last U.S. airport for outgoing flights, with uncluttered skies and one of the longest runways on the East Coast. Aircraft use the airport when there are mechanical problems, medical emergencies or unruly passengers.