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July 17, 2002
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Military Jets Escort Plane to LaGuardia After Passenger Sees Others Passing Notes

by Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Military jets escorted a jet to LaGuardia International Airport after a passenger became alarmed by a group of people passing notes, officials said.

About 15 minutes before American Trans Air Flight 204 was due to arrive from Chicago on Tuesday, a passenger told a flight attendant that seven others were engaged in ''suspicious activity,'' passing notes and changing seats, Port Authority spokesman Alan Hicks said.

The seven passengers, who are from India, were released early Wednesday, Port Authority officials said. They belonged to an Indian performance group and may have been rehearsing or discussing a performance when they attracted suspicion, their New York host, Chiru Vijanam, told WNBC-TV.

The flight attendant notified the pilot, who alerted federal aviation authorities. Two F-16 fighter jets escorted the plane a Boeing 757 with 98 passengers plus a crew to the ground, said Maj. Barry Venable, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The plane landed five minutes late, and no one was hurt.

Since Sept. 11, NORAD has scrambled fighters or diverted them from other missions more than 400 times to assist civilian aviation authorities, Venable said.






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