NEW YORK, MARCH 2 -- A jetliner returned to Kennedy airport after a passenger was found in a lavatory with "crack" and equipment to burn the drug for "freebasing," authorities said.

The man and a companion who was standing outside were arrested Tuesday by federal agents who happened to be aboard, said Robert Stutman, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office.

A flight attendant who smelled ether discovered the man in the lavatory, along with about a quarter-ounce of crack, a torch, ether and butane, Stutman said. The man outside also had crack in his possession, he said.

"This could have produced a real tragedy," Stutman said. "Ether is an extremely volatile, explosive substance when it is near flames."

A powdered form of cocaine is usually used in freebasing, a process in which the powder is mixed with ether and heated so the fumes can be inhaled, Stutman said.

Richard Moskowitz, 42, president of Ram Commodities Inc. and a member of the New York Commodity Exchange, and Jeff Tofler, 47, were arrested on charges that included possession of cocaine and interference with a flight, Stutman said. They were turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

About 98 passengers were aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 977, which left Kennedy at 1:35 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Miami at 4:24 p.m., said Karen Ceremsak, an airline spokeswoman.