New Docs On Disputed AirTran Flight Shows No Muslim Hijack Attempt

February 23, 2010 1:17 p.m.

In the end there was no amateur porn viewing. There was no shout of “infidel dog!” There were no Muslim hijackers.

FAA documents obtained by TPMmuckraker through the Freedom of Information Act thoroughly debunk NASA diver Tedd Petruna’s tale of a thwarted hijacking aboard AirTran Flight 297 in Atlanta last November.In an e-mail that went viral and was trumpeted on right-wing blogs — which declared Petruna an American hero — he claimed to have foiled the plot of a group of 11 Arabic-speaking, porn-watching Muslims.

What really happened on AirTran Flight 297 is this, according to the flight attendant reports that are included in the FAA investigation documents:

A man traveling with several others did not comply with flight attendant requests to put away a camera and stop taking pictures before takeoff. Other passengers complained about the “unruly” group of about four — reportedly Muslim — passengers. The plane was taxied back to the gate to let the man with the camera off, but the compatriots of the man complained when a flight attendant asked him to leave. Other passengers said they were uncomfortable and did not want to travel with the group.

A replacement crew of flight attendants was put on the plane and it later took off from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport bound for Houston.

It’s unclear why contemporaneous media reports on the flight delay cited a man who wouldn’t get off a cellphone. Three accounts by crew members all mention a man with a camera; it’s not clear if it may have been a phone camera.

An e-mail from an AirTran employee included in the FAA documents also confirms what had already been reported: that Petruna had missed his connection and was never on board Flight 297.

The FAA probe found no violations of safety rules on the flight.

Here are excerpts from the account of one of the crew members, whose names are redacted (typos in original):

As I started to walk back up to the front he flashes the camera again and I turn around and asked him to give me the camera or get off the [plane] if he didn’t want to listen. I asked do he want to continue his flight to [Houston] with us then give the camera or get off. He then stated to me english I’ll get off. …

[After the captain had taxied back to the gate, the agent] “went back asked him to gather belongings and follow the gate agent off, when he then try to pull the I don’t speak english, when throughout the entire time of asking them and him to take his seat turn off electronics and said in english each time to me it was off. While we were walking forward several of the people from the group started to stand and move forward behind us shouted in english and the language stupid, what are you doing and coming toward me agryly. I then got on the PA and asked everyone to take your seat and fasten your seatbelt. …

Once the gentleman got and proceeded to get off other [passengers] not with the group stood up and started to move forward yelling that they didn’t want to fly with the rest of the group because all of them were making them feel uncomfortable.

Read the other accounts here.

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