HOUSTON - A stick of dynamite was found in a college student's checked luggage on a Continental Airlines flight from Argentina, in one of six security incidents Friday that caused U.S. flights to be diverted, evacuated or searched.
Federal authorities were investigating why the student, who got off the Continental plane in Houston before it continued to Newark, N.J., had the explosive, FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap said.
The student, Howard McFarland Fish, 21, was in federal custody and authorities determined his actions were not acts of terrorism, according to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Fish told authorities he works in mining and often handles explosives, Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Omero Longoria said. Longoria said federal officials were investigating whether the explanation was true.
-An American Airlines flight from England to Chicago was forced to land in Bangor, Maine, in response to an unspecified threat, authorities said. Passengers deplaned and were led to a holding area, said airport manager Rebecca Hupp. The jetliner was on the tarmac with its engines shut off.
"Given the current threat level, the agency, in conjunction with other federal authorities, took prudent action to assure the safety of the passengers and crew," the federal Transportation Security Administration said in a statement.
-A US Airways jet was diverted to Oklahoma City after a federal air marshal subdued a disruptive passenger who had pushed a flight attendant, the FBI said.
-A Continental Airlines flight from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Bakersfield, Calif., was held in El Paso, one of its scheduled stops, after the crew discovered a missing panel in the lavatory, authorities said.
-A utility knife was found on a vacant passenger seat of a US Airways flight traveling from Philadelphia to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, state police said.
-An Aer Lingus flight from New York to Dublin was evacuated Friday morning during a scheduled stopover in western Ireland following a bomb threat that turned out to be unfounded, officials said.
Denis Breslin, spokesman for American Airlines' pilots union, said flight crews are predisposed to be cautious, given the alleged terror plot recently broken up in Britain.
"There really are bad guys out there to get us," he said. "We can't afford to take any of these potential threats for granted."
Pilots and flight attendants are now trained to view passengers who appear to be crazy as potential terrorists, Breslin said. But even if a disruptive passenger isn't a terrorist, "who knows what kind of havoc he could wreak on a closed pressurized tube at 39,000 feet?" he said.
In Houston, the dynamite was found during a luggage search in a federal inspection station at Bush Intercontinental Airport shortly after Flight 52 landed at about 6 a.m. Marlene McClinton, spokeswoman for the Houston Airport System, said a bomb-sniffing dog "had a hit" on explosive residue during a further search.
She said Customs and Border Patrol and the FBI shut down the customs area and began questioning the passenger who had the luggage.
Dunlap confirmed that the explosive was dynamite. Dunlap also said the man, one of 173 passengers on the flight, was from Connecticut and attends Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. After landing at Newark Liberty International, the plane was kept from the terminal as a precaution, authorities said.
In another incident, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Murray said American Airlines Flight 55 out of Manchester, England, was diverted to Bangor for security reasons.
"The TSA learned of a reported threat to the aircraft while it was en route," TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said, declining to give further details.
McCauley said FBI agents were interviewing passengers and crew. She added that officers with dogs trained to detect explosives were also checking the plane.
The Boeing 767 carrying 167 passengers and 12 crew members was diverted at the request of the Transportation Security Administration, airline spokesman John Hotard said.
Hotard declined to say whether any passengers were removed from the flight, but he said the crew needed to be changed because of restrictions on how many hours they can work.
In Oklahoma City, the passenger who pushed the flight attendant on the US Airways flight was taken into custody after the plane landed at Will Rogers World Airport, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said. He was undergoing a mental evaluation, and authorities had yet to determine what criminal charges he might face. The twin-engine jet returned to flight three hours later on its trip from Phoenix to Charlotte, N.C.
In Connecticut, authorities said they received an emergency call at about 8:25 a.m. reporting that a passenger on US Airways Flight 554 had found the knife and reported it to a flight attendant. When the plane arrived at Bradley, state troopers boarded the aircraft, seized the knife as evidence and interviewed passengers.
No arrests were made and there were no threats involved, said Master Sgt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman.
Authorities do not know yet whether a worker inadvertently left the knife on the plane or a passenger brought it on, Vance said.
The FBI was also involved in the investigation.
Back in Texas, the crew of Continental Airlines Flight 2258 discovered a missing panel in the lavatory, and passengers were being screened and interviewed upon landing in El Paso, the TSA's Amy von Walter said.
The Air Transport Association, a lobbying group that represents major airlines, said the diversions are necessary for safety reasons.
"Decisions to divert aircraft for security reasons are made for a wide variety of reasons, the ATA said in a statement. "While the reasons for these decisions will vary, the common factor is the overarching importance of assuring the safety of our passengers and crews."