TORONTO – A Sunwing Airlines flight to Panama City was escorted by two U.S. fighter jets back to Toronto on Friday after a passenger allegedly made a “direct threat” to the aircraft, NORAD and airline officials said.
A 25-year-old suspect was arrested shortly after the plane landed at Toronto’s Pearson airport at 9 a.m.
“The aircraft turned around approximately 45 minutes into the flight over West Virginia when an agitated customer made a direct threat against the aircraft,” the airline said in a statement.
Flight 772 was carrying 183 passengers and a crew of six.
A spokeswoman for NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — confirmed that two of its F-16 fighter jets accompanied the plane back to Canada.
Capt. Jennifer Stadnyk said the jets were already in the air doing exercise flight training near Toledo, Ohio and they “shadowed” the passenger plane back to Toronto as a “precautionary measure.”
Peel police said they have charged Ali Shahi with uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft.
He’s due in court Saturday for a bail hearing to face the allegations.
The RCMP said its national security enforcement team is assisting with the investigation.
Cellphone video footage from passengers aboard the flight, which was broadcast on several television networks, showed heavily armed SWAT team officers boarding the plane and shouting “heads down, hands up!”
The airline said the flight was rescheduled for Friday afternoon.
Sunwing president Mark Williams said he was “very happy” with the way the cabin crew handled the incident.
“Crews and everyone are trained to deal with situations like that and stop them from escalating,” he said.
“People should be comforted in the fact that this situation was handled without any injuries.”
He said the airline was co-operating with the police investigation.