U.S. officials ordered a Chicago-bound Air France flight from Paris to turn around over the Atlantic yesterday after it was discovered that a passenger was on the government's "no-fly" list.
Air France Flight 50 left Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport and was in the air for more than two hours before officials realized that a passenger's name matched one on the list. Department of Homeland Security officials denied the plane entry into the United States and ordered it to return to Paris, where the male passenger was removed.
Unlike many other flight diversions, Department of Homeland Security officials said this one was not prompted by a case of mistaken identity -- the passenger was in fact on the list.
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lauren Stover said the plane was met by local law enforcement officials. It was unclear yesterday whether the passenger was arrested.
"It was a positive hit," Stover said. "He is on the no-fly list."
U.S. policy requires airlines heading to the United States to submit passenger manifests to the TSA and Customs and Border Protection no later than 15 minutes after the plane has departed. Officials then compare the manifest with various government watch lists, including the no-fly list of terrorists and people with suspected ties to terrorists. The list, which is not public, contains about 30,000 names, U.S. officials say.
Air France said that four of the 291 passengers on board left the plane in Paris, but it would not provide any further details. "Air France is cooperating to the fullest extent with U.S. authorities," said spokeswoman Chris Maio. "We will make every effort to ensure our passengers reach their final destination with minimal inconvenience."
The airline's Web site indicated that the flight had already returned to Paris once yesterday before being called back by U.S. officials on its second departure. The plane first took off at 1:54 p.m. and returned to the airport 25 minutes later because of a "safety precaution," according to the airline Web site. It departed again at 3:03 p.m. and returned four hours later at the direction of U.S. officials. Maio said the safety issue was unrelated to the no-fly incident. The plane finally left Paris at 12:25 a.m. local time.
In a similar incident in April, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Amsterdam was forced to turn around over Canada after U.S. officials realized that two passengers on board matched names on the no-fly list. When the flight returned to Europe, local authorities questioned the men but did not arrest them.