Witnesses on an AirTran flight from Atlanta to Houston are saying that a possible “dry run” of a terrorist attack occurred on their aircraft, WorldNetDaily.com reports.
AirTran confirms there was an incident but claims that it was only related to a single passenger and a cell phone.
The incident was first reported in a widely-circulated e-mail said to be a passenger on Flight 297 on November 17.
The e-mail says that one Muslim spoke loudly on a cell phone in Arabic to distract the first stewardess in the First Class section since using electronic devices was not permitted at the time.
The man was on the phone with another Muslim passenger, who distracted a second stewardess. Two other Muslims then began watching a video, and when the third stewardess tried to stop them, she was yelled at. At that point, the total group of about 11 Muslims stood up and walked toward the front of the plane, according to the e-mail account.
At that point, the pilots brought the plane back to the gate and law enforcement escorted the dozen or so Muslims off the aircraft and removed their luggage. Petruna claims that the group came back onto the plane, causing the flight crew to refuse to fly.
AirTran says that the e-mail contained numerous factual errors and the name listed as the author of the e-mail, Tedd Petruna, was not on the flight.
“After conducting additional research into this situation, we have verified, according to flight manifests (legally binding documents) that the individual that allegedly created a firsthand account of events onboard AirTran Airways flight 297, a Theodore Petruna, was never actually onboard the flight,” a statement on AirTran’s website reads.
Petruna did not respond to emails from WorldNetDaily.com, who instead received an automated response saying he would not speak anymore about the incident since he was threatened with losing his job.
However, WorldNetDaily.com reports, the airline failed to clarify why the flight crew was changed after the incident and why several passengers refused to get onboard the plane. AirTran did confirm that a passenger who did not speak English used a cell phone and took photos when it was not permitted, resulting in the plane returning to the gate and that the passenger and his interpreter were then escorted off of the aircraft.
The Northeast Intelligence Network, a group of private experts and investigators, argues that there’s more credibility to the e-mail than the airline wishes to admit. The director of the organization, Douglas Hagmann, says he communicated with a passenger onboard Flight 297 two days after the incident who confirmed the story.
The KHOU TV station confirmed that a passenger named Keith Robinson missed the flight but got on the aircraft after it came back to the gate and when he boarded, he saw flight attendants crying.
“He said, ‘I just saw them, there were these Middle Eastern men. They were taking pictures. They wouldn’t sit down,.’ Besides that, he said a couple of them were making gestures with their hand as if they were shooting people,” Robinson said, referring to a conversation he had with another passenger.
Another passenger, Brent Brown, confirmed to WSB Atlanta that about a dozen Muslim men on the flight talked on cell phones and walked towards the cabin and refused to sit down. His story contradicts one detail of the e-mail story as he says he did not see law enforcement actually board the plane.
Hagmann says that he has interviewed a total of seven people involved in the story, including two members of law enforcement and that he can confirm the key elements of the original e-mail.