A direct United Airlines flight from Dulles airport to Beijing turned around mid-flight Thursday at the request of FBI agents, who then arrested a passenger in connection with a possible international parental kidnapping after the plane landed.
Lindsay Ram, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington field office, said the mother, Wenjing Liu, was arrested Thursday under probable cause of international parental kidnapping. Her plane, which took off from Washington Dulles International Airport around noon Thursday, landed back at the same airport at 5 p.m., Ram said.
According to court documents, she was charged with knowingly and unlawfully attempting to remove her son from the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.
She is scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon.
Ram said the boy’s father called local authorities, who then contacted the FBI about the alleged kidnapping. After researching the parents’ child custody agreement, Ram said, agents reached out to the airline and had pilots turn the plane around mid-air.
Ram said the plane was over North America when it headed back to Dulles.
The child and mother got off the plane, and the mother was taken into custody. Ram said the child went home with his father.
The plane took off again for Beijing on Thursday evening.
Liu is a Chinese citizen and was married in Leesburg, Va. to the boy’s father in 2007 and lived in various locations in Virginia. The boy, who has dual United States and Chinese citizenship, was born in 2010 and the pair divorced in 2013. The pair had joint legal custody of the child, and the custody order said that neither party could travel with the child outside the United States without written and notarized consent of the other party.
According to an affidavit by an FBI agent, Liu told the boy’s father in an e-mail on Thursday morning that her grandmother was dying, so she and the boy were flying back to China. The father told her the child could not go because she would not be able to send him to school, and she e-mailed back saying that she already booked the plane ticket and they were leaving immediately, the court documents say.
Authorities said that Liu told the father that she was taking the trip because she had been notified about her grandmother’s declining health on Wednesday, but travel documents show that she made flight reservations for one-way airline tickets on Aug. 27.