A blogger named Shoshana Hebshi says she was one of the passengers pulled off Frontier Airlines Flight 623 when it landed in Detroit on Sunday. According to media reports and Hebshi's blog post (which, until I hear otherwise from DHS or Frontier, I'm going to report as an actual account of the day's events) a team of police armed to the teeth boarded the plane and told passengers to put their heads down and their hands on the seat in front of them. The cops then pulled two Indian men and a self-described "half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio" out of their seats, cuffed them, led them off the plane, and took them to a DHS facility at the airport, where Hebshi says she was strip-searched and interrogated.
The tip that led to the arrest came from a passenger who claimed the three seat mates spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Let's compare the versions of events reported by media outlets, and the version reported by Hebshi.
Police temporarily detained and questioned three passengers at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport on Sunday after the crew of the Frontier Airlines flight from Denver reported suspicious activity on board, and NORAD sent two F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely, airline and federal officials said.
The three passengers who were taken off the plane in handcuffs were released Sunday night, and no charges were filed against them, airport spokesman Scott Wintner said.
Frontier Flight 623, with 116 passengers on board, landed without incident in Detroit at 3:30 p.m. EDT after the crew reported that two people were spending "an extraordinarily long time" in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said.
FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said ultimately authorities determined there was no real threat.
"Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously," Berchtold said. "The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not."
Here's the report from a Michigan media outlet, BNO News:
Two fighter jets intercepted a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Sunday after two or three passengers were observed behaving suspiciously, officials said. It is believed some sort of sexual activity may have been involved.
"Two passengers were observed behaving suspiciously [..], spending an extraordinarily long time in the lavatory," a spokesperson for the airline said. "Authorities were contacted."
According to witnesses, two men and a woman seated in the same row repeatedly went to the plane's bathroom and spent a long amount of time there. Law enforcement sources told ABC News that the people were "making out" in the bathroom, and that some sort of sexual activity may have been involved.
Because of the suspicious behavior, the pilot of the plane declared an emergency and fighter jets were scrambled to follow the plane until it landed safely in Detroit. Police armed with machine guns boarded the plane after it landed and directed to a pad a distance from the concourse.
"The policeman said everybody remain seated. Everyone remains seated. If you get out of your seats you will be taken care of quickly," Marilyn Dietrick, one of the passengers, told WXYZ-TV. "They had us put our hands up on the seats and heads down."
And here's an abbreviated (by me) account from the woman who says she was yanked off Flight 623:
Before I knew it, about 10 cops, some in what looked like military fatigues, were running toward the plane carrying the biggest machine guns I have ever seen–bigger than what the guards carry at French train stations.
Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down. The cops ran down the aisle, stopped at my row and yelled at the three of us to get up. "Can I bring my phone?" I asked, of course. What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers! No, one of the cops said, grabbing my arm a little harder than I would have liked. He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.
The cops brought us to a parked squad car next to the plane, had us spread our legs and arms. Mine asked me if I was wearing any explosives. "No," I said, holding my tongue to not let out a snarky response. I wasn't sure what I could and could not say, and all that came out was "What's going on?"
No one would answer me. They put me in the back of the car.
I asked him several times what was going on and he wouldn't answer me. It was like I was invisible. I felt so helpless and shocked. I was being treated like a criminal.
A plainclothes officer stood came to my door and asked me if I spoke English. Something in me snapped at that question. Of course I spoke English I'm an American citizen, you asshole! Well, I left the expletive out. "Ok," he said and stood watch outside my door saying he wanted to make sure I didn't "flush anything." He also wouldn't tell me what was going on.
Eventually a female uniformed officer came in….I was to stand, face the wall in a position so the camera above the toilet couldn't see, and take off my clothes. I complied…
"You understand why we have to do this, right? It's for our own protection," she told me.
According to both Hebshi and the AP (who Hebshi links to at the bottom of her post), all three passengers were released Sunday night with no charges against them. If Hebshi's post is accurate, if she never once used the restroom or interacted with her seat-mates (who it appears were also victims of overreaction, though for the slightly more criminal act of spending too long in the bathroom), Frontier Airlines should probably explain why it lumped her in with the "suspicious" brown people with whom she was sitting. I've got calls into DHS and Frontier's PR department. Will update when I know more.