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My experience on an Air France flight under a bomb threat
By Kim Jong-ha
“This is an emergency. We will be making an emergency landing.”
The captain’s voice over the speaker was urgent but firm. I was watching a Korean film from Air France’s selection as a passenger inside an A380 on Flight 65, on my way to Paris with my daughter.
We’d been in the air for about two hours after lifting off from Los Angeles at 3:50 p.m.
Flight attendants had handed out drinks and were preparing to serve the first meal; some of the passengers who had requested vegetarian dishes had already begun eating.
My daughter and I were on our way to Budapest, Hungary, where she would participate in the world junior music concours competition.
The interruption to our peace came even before the announcement — at some point, the flight attendants’ movements had become hurried, the food cart was put away, and mid-meal diners were asked to put their food on the ground. I knew something was wrong.
When they said we were due for an emergency landing, they provided no explanation. Passengers murmured amongst themselves, worry etched onto their faces. One elderly woman clutched onto a flight attendant’s hand, visibly nervous.
The monitor showing us the flight tracking showed us over Idaho, but the plane had made a sudden right turn. We were going to land in Salt Lake City.
We landed 20 minutes later.
At first I figured there was a problem with the gas. But my next thought landed on the fact that we were on Air France, not a week after the terrorist attacks that had torn into Paris.
Could this be a terror threat?
The captain made no further announcements during our descent. The flight attendants were not answering the questions of numerous passengers.
I, too, asked. Why are we making an emergency landing?
“Mystery,” a flight attendant told me.
Another passenger got up from his seat to retrieve a bag; he was told at once to remain sitting.
In Salt Lake City, our plane made a safe landing. Some of the passengers clapped; it was about 7 p.m.
All we saw were fire trucks and police cars and emergency vehicles surrounding the plane, lights bright and red and blue. We waited 30 minutes inside the plane, still without an explanation, before the captain told us to exit the aircraft with all our belongings.
We were led toward U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, who asked us not to take photos or videos.
There were more than 400 passengers. We waited there, crowded in a security area, without a clue of what was happening.
Eventually, word got around the passengers that there had been a bomb threat. We searched on our cellphones to read the breaking news on CNN that two Air France planes that had left from Los Angeles and Washington, respectively, had made emergency landings due to anonymous bomb threats.
Later, I would find out that our flight, 65, and Flight 55 had both been diverted because of terror threats made over the phone.
The FBI could not find evidence to “lend credibility” to the threats as of Wednesday, and the episode was under federal investigation. Flight 55, which was carrying 298 passengers and crew, made a safe landing in Halifax, Canada.
Inside Salt Lake City International Airport, an employee told us two hours after our landing that we we would each be subject to an interview conducted by the FBI.
When it was my turn, all I was asked was whether I had seen anyone or anything suspicious. I told them no, and that was my interview.
We waited five hours to return onto the plane. We cheered as an airport employee joked, “The plane you’re about to board cannot be any safer.”
I arrived in Paris Wednesday around 5:30 p.m., 17 hours after I’d left Los Angeles.
Further investigation will tell whether the threats to Flight 065 and 055 were pranks or something more, but to have experienced what I did on my way to Paris during a time when global shock over the tragedies in Paris last week was a reality check, a reminder that “terror” is closer to me than I ever thought it was.