Plane diverted after threat

Posted: Friday, November 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Boeing 747 en route from Minneapolis to Tokyo was diverted to Anchorage Thursday and searched by bomb-sniffing dogs after an unruly passenger claimed to be a terrorist, according to the FBI.

The plane remained in Anchorage overnight and its passengers were put up in local hotels, said Mary Beth Schubert, a spokeswoman for Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis.

The plane was left Anchorage for Tokyo at 8:38 a.m. Friday, she said. It was scheduled to reach Tokyo at 10 a.m. local time.

Matthew Leggett, 42, of Houston was arrested on felony charges of interfering with a flight crew, said Eric Gonzalez, a special agent in the Anchorage office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Leggett was taken into custody by airport police without incident and was taken to Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Gonzalez said.

''He was pretty calm as he left the plane,'' Gonzalez said.

There were 333 passengers and 18 crew members aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 19, Gonzalez said. While in the air, passengers complained that Leggett was bothering them, and a flight attendant tried to talk to him, Gonzalez said.

''He made some threatening gestures, snapping his fingers in the face of the flight attendant.''

Because of the long distance of the flight, two teams of pilots were aboard. The relief crew was asked to talk to Leggett, Gonzalez said.

''Mr. Leggett had threatened to kill another passenger,'' Gonzalez said. ''The pilots were able to calm him down, and a decision was made to divert the plane.''

''Mr. Leggett was very agitated. He claimed to be a terrorist,'' Gonzalez said. ''He said, 'You don't know who I am.' He was just acting bizarre.''

Flight 19 took off from Minneapolis at 12:40 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Tokyo at 4:25 p.m.

It landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport around 4:08 p.m.

Passengers got off, and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to search the plane.

''This is just being done in an abundance of caution,'' Gonzalez said.

No one was injured, Gonzalez said. Alcohol and medication are believed to have been involved, Gonzalez said. Leggett had a bottle of alcohol on the plane that the flight crew didn't know about, he said.

The diversion caused no other problems with Northwest's flight scheduling, said Schubert of the airline.

Several planes bound for Asia have been diverted to Anchorage in recent months due to problems with unruly passengers. Some passengers removed from those flights have spent time in federal prison and been ordered to pay restitution to the airlines of tens of thousands of dollars.

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