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Northwest Airlines Flight 253 Reports Emergency Due to Unruly Passenger

Aired December 27, 2009 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So, again, what you're looking at right now live images, there, at the Detroit airport. This aircraft, Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit in an isolated location of the airport, emergency vehicles around it because the crew alerted the right authorities that there was a problem, a verbally abusive or disruptive passenger onboard and to be at the ready upon landing. Emergency crews were on the ground right away and buses were brought, as well. All the passengers and crew members were deplaned and presumably, Jeanne Meserve, homeland security correspondent and Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, still with us out of Washington.

Presumably, Jeanne, what would take place after those passengers and crews are deplaned, they will all be questioned. They're looking for consistencies and inconsistencies in the story telling of what exactly what was witnessed. We heard from Martin Savidge who's there in Detroit earlier, is that on Christmas day when this same flight, flight 253 made its landing from Holland, people were questioned for five or six hours. Is that the typical amount of time when an incident is to occur that everyone is thoroughly examined like this?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it depends somewhat on what their early conclusions are about the incident. In some incidents come to conclusion pretty quickly that this wasn't a security threat. Given recent history I suspect they're going to be very careful with this one, though, and it will not take hours. They will not only want to talk to all those passengers, but they're gong to want to get onboard that aircraft, they're going to go over it with dogs to see if they get any explosive hits. They may want to look at all of the carry-on luggage, perhaps they'll even want to look at what was in the hold of the aircraft.

This could be a very, very extensive process because if this was, indeed, a security threat, they're doing forensic work here, they have to find the materials, if there are any. You'll remember that in the affidavit that was filed on the case Christmas day, they talked about how they found the syringe on the floor near his seat. So, this will be an extensive process, given the date, given the recent history, given the flight.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Jeanne. Hold on right there, because White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president, he's in Honolulu. The president vacationing in Hawaii.

We just read this statement, Ed, saying that the president was notified quite immediately about this unruly passenger and that another teleconference will be taking place soon. What more will be revealed from the White House, right now?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, Fred, that is all that we're getting right now from Bill Burton, who is the deputy White House press secretary who is traveling with the president. The person, the aide who informed the president of this is Dennis McDonough, he's a chief of staff at the National Security Council, traveling here in Hawaii. Obviously a lot of the White House staff were expecting that it would not be quite as busy, quite as urgent a situation as we've seen unfold over the last couple of days.

So far we've seen the president stay mostly behind closed doors. He's had some outings. This morning he had another workout at the local Marine base, here. He played basketball with some White House staff, as well as some friend who were visiting from Chicago and elsewhere with him.

But as you know, the president, himself, has not been out there publicly himself on this. He has been allowing aides to put out this statement. That's by design. This White House is a much different style from the bush administration. They do not believe the president should not go out every time there's an attempted terror attack. And I am referring, of course, to the first incident from a couple days ago, because we don't know whether the second one was an attempted terror attack or not.

This case, so far, being classified by Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, as an unruly passenger incident and we need to stress that, that we have no information yet suggesting that this was an attempted terror attack. The White House very clearly said the episode a few days ago was an attempted terror attack, but so far they have been keeping the president sort of at arm's length in terms of the reaching out to the public on this. But very important to note that behind the scenes, the president has been very much in the loop on all this information that is coming into his staff, traveling with him. He's also getting very frequent updates from the White House situation room back in Washington, which has been operating basically 24/7 and does that whether the president is on vacation or not -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ed Henry in Honolulu, thanks so much. We'll check back with you momentarily.

So, just to recap for any of you who are just now joining. You are looking at images out of Detroit airport and you're looking at Northwest flight 253 making its way to Detroit from Amsterdam and now you're seeing all the luggage on the tarmac, as well, as they try to sanitize this airplane, try to get to the bottom of anything that might help them in their questioning of a passenger who has been considered to be unruly. And one that was verbally abusive.

You're not looking at images we're replaying from Christmas day, two days ago, when this same flight plan, flight 253, made its way from Amsterdam to Detroit. Onboard was a passenger who is now been charged, as of yesterday, with trying to blow up an aircraft. Now, two days later, very similar flight plan, but now the difference here is the crew notified authorities and said we want emergency crews in place when we land because we have a disruptive passenger, one that was verbally abusive, is the language that delta airlines is using; Delta and Northwest merging. And now you're seeing, after all the passengers and crews have been deplaned from the aircraft which is now in a remote location, there at the Detroit airport, all the luggage has been put on the tarmac there, they will painstakingly go through all this luggage, they're looking for any kind of forensic evidence. They're looking for anything that raises suspicion.

I'm joined now by Sandra Endo who is an expert on airport security.

I think you're out of Washington, is that right?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN AIRPORT SECURITY EXPERT: That's right. I was at Reagan National Airport all morning long, Fredricka, and I can talk to you about some heightened security efforts underway at area airports across the country in light of the Detroit incident which happened on Christmas day.

Security is certainly beefed up at area airports here in Washington, D.C., especially I saw firsthand, bomb sniffing dogs and policeman patrolling the area, of course, even more. But certainly the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, also released new guidelines for passengers. They're not laying out specifically all the new rules. They want to remain unpredictable, but we do know that passengers on international flights will now have to stay in their seats an hour before landing. They will not be allowed to have personal belongings on their laps or their blankets on their laps, as well. And then also, passengers will have to undergo extra security measure, screenings at gates and pat downs, perhaps, as well.

Now, we don't know the timeline in terms of the action of this particular passenger on the incident today, but we do know that there are new implemented guidelines for passengers on international flights heading into the United States. So, clearly, that's going to be something that TSA is going to be looking into when they investigate this case, as well as the overall security at all airports as we go forward.

WHITFIELD: OK, Sandra, thanks so much. And I want to bring Jeanne Meserve, homeland security correspondent, back into the picture, here, as we look at now, what, Jeanne, you did gave us a prelude of this is likely what were to happen as they try to examine this aircraft. All the passengers and crew deplaned, presumably they are now undergoing some questioning, but while they try to figure out how serious a case this is, they got all the luggage, all the luggage that was on that plane, whether it be in the cargo or in the overhead bins, now it is all stretched out on the tarmac. Explain to us what will be taking place.

MESERVE: Well, it looks to me like they're getting it ready for the dogs and that they will be taking some canine explosive detection teams up and down that line to see what those animals can pick up. As you know, they're pretty darn good. And I'm sure they have them deployed at Detroit as they do at many other airports across the country, today. So, I believe that's probably what they're going to do. If they have any hits, clearly they'll take some other precautionary measures, probably, I guess, isolate the bag, take it away, perhaps do some, I don't know whether they do a detonation or whether they try and do other forensic work on it before that.

But, yeah, I think that's what you're seeing there on the tarmac now, as the questioning of the passengers and of this particular individual proceeds.

WHITFIELD: And all this taking place, oh, now, we can see. You can see on the left side, it's out of frame now, you can see the dog there, along with his handler there, examining every piece of luggage, looking for anything that is suspicious. We still don't know much about the behavior of this passenger. We understand it, Jeanne, still to be one passenger who is in custody who was described by Delta Airlines as being verbally abusive and we don't know what other kind of behavior was associated with that.

One government source did tell CNN, however, Jeanne, that this passenger or person was in the lavatory of the aircraft for about an hour and that raised suspicion and that particularly on the heels of the suspect from the Christmas day, Northwest flight, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, witnesses say that he was in the bathroom for 20 minutes before he came out and then returned to his seat and then ignited this incendiary device.

MESERVE: Concerned when passengers spend a lot of time in a lavatory. I'll tell you, many years ago, I went and flew with a federal air marshal as he did his job and as we sat in that aircraft, there was a passenger who went to the rest room and he stayed there for longer than five minutes and that air marshal got up and knocked on the door to determine what was going on and kept a very careful eye on that particular passenger after that point in the flight.

So, it's something they're aware of, because they don't know, perhaps they're mixing something in the bathroom, perhaps they have hidden something in the bathroom, perhaps they're moving something around their body in a bathroom, perhaps they're praying in a bathroom, they don't know. It could be something totally innocent, it could be something that wasn't -- someone who is not feeling well. Lord knows that can happen on an international flight, in particular. But, they, at this point it is something that would raise a lot of red flags, a lot of concern and everybody, let me add, is on a hair trigger here, given the events of Christmas day. Every pilot, every security screener, every passenger is going to be extraordinarily sensitive to any sort of behavior that is at all out of the ordinary.

WHITFIELD: And particularly the same airline, the same flight and the same airport, all of them on heightened sense of sensitivity, as you've put it, and now with this taking place just two days after that Christmas day incident, everyone here was at the ready at Detroit airport and was able to respond immediately after the crew said they wanted some sort of backup or they wanted emergency, an emergency plan in place immediately.

MESERVE: That's absolutely right. As you know, everything is staffed up and would have been staffed up for the holidays, in any event. But, I'm sure briefings of varusious security personnel. I know there have been directives that have gone out to airlines. So, yeah, people anticipating possible problems, in part because, as we know, in the past, al Qaeda, when it has tried to do things in the air had tried to do things with multiple aircrafts and although investigators in the Christmas day events have not yet said whether there's an al Qaeda connection, we did hear the secretary of homeland security say this morning that she thought this was not part of a broader attack, but, you know, you don't know what you don't know. And it's a reason why this would be particularly worrisome.

WHITFIELD: And CNN is learning from one law enforcement official saying no device was found with or on the passenger. Yet, Jeanne, you still will see them go through every step to double check all of the articles left on the plane, whether they be pieces of luggage or personal items, correct?

MESERVE: That's absolutely correct. Now, they might not do it to the nth degree as they would have if they had found a device on this passenger, but since they have not, I think they will still run the traps here out of an abundance of caution.

WHITFIELD: All right, White House correspondent Ed Henry still with us, he's in Honolulu where the president is keeping close tabs on this situation and even released a statement, his staff did, about how he's being kept abreast -- Ed.

HENRY: That's right. Just a short time ago, Bill Burton, the deputy White House spokesperson put out a statement saying the president was notified just about 9:00 Local Time, here, just a short while ago, we're five hours back of the East Coast in the United States, about this incident from Dennis McDonough, he's his chief of staff on the National Security Council back in Washington. But Dennis McDonough is traveling here in Hawaii with the president, in fact, played basketball with him this morning when the president had a workout at a local Marine base.

So, obviously, they're in contact here. They're planning to have a vacation, but it keeps getting interrupted, obviously. On that call with Dennis McDonough, in which the president was informed about this latest incident, we're told by Bill Burton that the president immediately instructed that there be a secure conference call set up just as there was one just a few days ago with Dennis McDonough, John Brannon, the president's Homeland Security adviser and others to get on top of this situation. They're clearly trying to keep not only the president abreast of the situation, but when they do these secure conference calls they reach out to the TSA, other agencies to make sure that everyone is coordinating the information. Something often that did not happen right around 9/11, of course.

They are trying to make sure these systems that have been put in place post-9/11 are working. And I think that it's also important to stress that Bill Burton, in his statement, is saying that in this case, the president was notified about this passenger disruption, not classifying it as an attempted terror attack, since we have no evidence that it was. And as you just reported, our producer Carol Pratty (ph) getting information from a law enforcement source suggesting that this person on the plane who was disruptive in some manner, did not have a device on him. At least that's the initial word.

Again, very early in this investigation. As we know from just a few days ago, the first incident we're still picking up information on that. We don't have all of it, the FBI is digging hard on all of that. The second one just playing out now, as we speak. So, the White House is desperately trying to get all the information it can before it starts classifying it in any direction. They just want to get as much information as possible and get to the president -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, I wonder Ed, while a couple days ago when this incident happened on Christmas day and it did result in a suspect who has now been charged with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner, at the time, the president and the White House, Homeland Security said we're not necessarily going to adjust the threat level, color code. I wonder if today's incident, depending on, of course, the outcome of this investigation, would in any way encourage the White House to respond one more time on the threat level or Homeland Security about this color code system.

HENRY: Well, they could take another look, as you say, at the color coded system, but that, obviously, as you noted, is dependent upon what plays out in this situation, if it is just either a sick passenger or an unruly passenger, that could happen on any flight whether it's coming in from Europe or it's domestically within the U.S. and may have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. If that's the case, then it seems highly unlikely this administration would change the color coded threat level. They kept it at orange, they did not raise it to red on Charismas day, even though we're learning more information today that the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was on CNN saying that on Christmas day they looked at that very closely. They considered it, they looked at all those options, but they didn't raise it even though that was, they believe, an attempted terror attack on Christmas day.

If this does not turn out to be an attempted terror attack, it obviously seems highly unlikely they would raise the color coded threat level. Again, they want to get all the information they can, make sure they classify this appropriately and put it in the proper perspective. They don't want to alarm the public if this turns out to just be an unruly passenger -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Ed Henry, thanks so much, traveling with the president there, in Honolulu.

OK, Detroit is where you're looking right now. That tarmac, as they continue with their sniffing dogs to examine the baggage and all the items that were left on this aircraft, Northwest flight 253, which made a landing after the crew called in and said we've got an unruly passenger on...


CHERYL JACKSON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: ...and my shoes my coat were both checked for chemicals. So, here the security has gone up, people are concerned and they're standing around now waiting to see what's going on.

WHITFIELD: And so, from where, the vantage point of most passengers or visitors at the airport, can they see where that aircraft is? I described it as being in a more remote location of the airport, but is it an area where they can actually see the emergency crews examining or parked near that aircraft?

JACKSON: You know, Fredricka, I don't know for sure. They area of the airport that I was in, I was called suddenly to come here, so the airport, the part of the airport I was in, I could not see the plane.

WHITFIELD: All right, all right. Thanks so much, Cheryl Jackson, appreciate that. Homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is with us, again.

Jeanne, are you learning anything knew about what is taking place there at Detroit airport.

MESERVE: I wish I could tell you I was. But, at the moment I'm on the phone with you. So, I'm reading my blackberry, here, but, no, I haven't seen any new information coming in since we saw that information that this person appears not to have a device, according to law enforcement.

WHITFIELD: OK, no device on this unruly passenger or even that they're able to see onboard that flight, as of yet. But, it looks as though they've gone through with the dog sniffers through a lot of the luggage there that's placed on the tarmac. We haven't seen any unusual or particular activity surrounding any one particular piece of luggage. Do you have any idea, Jeanne, how long it will be before they actually remove the aircraft from this location or that they would give an all clear?

All right, doesn't look like homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is with us still. But again, what you're looking at are images here out of Detroit airport. This aircraft, Northwest Airlines flight 253, made its way from Amsterdam to Detroit when the crew onboard this flight phoned in and said we have a verbally abusive or/unruly passenger onboard, please have emergency crews at the ready as we make our landing in Detroit.

Emergency crews were there at the ready, there at Detroit airport. All the passengers and crew members were deplaned, they were boarded on to these buses. We understand the buses have been taken to an undisclosed location there at the airport. Each of the passengers and crew members are being questioned.

The passenger who's considered unruly, we're told from sources, is in custody and being questioned. You saw in an earlier shot all the luggage being removed from the aircraft and placed on the tarmac. They had dogs that went through each of the pieces of luggage trying to look for any kind of suspicious activity. We understand from one law enforcement source that no device was found with or on that passenger. However, out of an abundance of caution here, they're going through the drill, examining everything and talking to all the people possible.

Can I hear my producer one more time?

OK. Sandra Endo is back with us out of Washington. Your focus has been airport security and you have been at Reagan Airport over is the past couple days to see that security has stepped up considerably as a result of the Christmas day incident. Now, we're talking one day after the Nigerian was charged with trying to blow up an aircraft, we're seeing another emergency unfolding there at Detroit airport and over the past couple days everyone who has been traveling in and out of any one of the many airports throughout the country has been indured a stepped up level of security.

ENDO: That's right, Fred. Because certainly there are some eerie similarities between what happened here today and what happened on Christmas in Detroit. But, of course, there are different incidents and different outcomes.

But, overall when you talk about air safety and air travel now, travelers can expect beefed up security everywhere they go. And the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, has implemented new guidelines for passengers. They haven't revealed all the new rules because they want to remain unpredictable and make sure people are on their toes. They don't know exactly where the security is going to be and when they will be tested.

However, we do know that passengers traveling internationally to the United States will have to remain in their seats an hour before landing. They will not be allowed to have any personal belongings on their laps and blankets covering them. And we know that there will be extra gate security and also passengers will be screened more heavily. We're talking about being patted down and perhaps being more scrutinized in terms of their personal belongings and carry-ons that they will take onto the planes.

We also know airlines will be more sensitive in terms of behavior. They're certainly going to tell their flight attendants and crews to be sure they monitor people's behaviors on planes and clearly it's an example of what happened here in this incident that landed in Detroit.

Of course, the crew members sprung into action and made sure that the necessary precautions were made available to make sure this incident remains safe and was taken care of. But, certainly, for passengers traveling, air travelers, they will experience heightened security, especially in light of the Christmas incident -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sandra Endo, thanks so much. Homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve back with us, now.

What are you learning -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: And we do have a little bit of new information. A law enforcement source says that this does appear to be a nonserious incident. This source says that this person, this individual does not appear to be a threat. So, this reinforces what we've heard from other sources along the line here as this individual did not have a device. We're still waiting to get more detail. I'm sure it will take a bit to get it.

WHITFIELD: OK, and that they're saying that this person appears to be or the incident seems to be nonserious. Will they still continue to go through the drill or complete trying to sanitize that aircraft? We see the luggage is still, from this live picture, still on the tarmac splayed out where they had a dog go through that luggage. How much longer before they would actually say this is an all clear? Are there other layers to go through?

MESERVE: You know, it varies from case to case and I am reluctant to try to predict the time frame here. I'll tell you, they're still processing this individual. I'm sure there is an extensive interview process that is going on. I'm sure they're looking very carefully at his documents and his travel history and they're querying all those databases that we heard so much about just to make triple sure that they haven't got a security situation on their hands, here.

So, that individual still, as I understand it, being questioned. I believe the interviews with the passengers probably will continue as they continue just, just out of an abundance of caution make sure they really actually know what they're dealing with here.

WHITFIELD: Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much.

Martin Savidge is here at Detroit airport. We have you back with us now. Martin, what are you learning from your vantage point?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, despite all the activity and drama that you can see by looking at the shots there from an isolated part of the runway at Detroit Metro Airport, activity as flights taking off, people coming and going has not been interrupted at all. In fact, I would dare say that most of the people here are totally unaware as to any situation that might have occurred here or whether it was serious or not.

In fact, a couple people have heard maybe something was going on and they had come up and asked where is the airplane and I had to point it out to them. So once they looked in the direction and saw the emergency vehicles, all right, then it becomes quite apparent, but otherwise, no, there's been no disruption of service, activity continues to go on, it's a busy day, of course. People wrapping up the holidays and heading home or heading back to wherever they may have to be. But it does appear that this has had a major impact on flight operations here in the Detroit area. As I say, most people seem unaware.

What we're waiting to see is when we might be able to have access the passengers of 253 to get, obviously, their input as to what happened and what took place, how serious was this altercation and then, also, the original reason we wanted to get in touch with them was how had security measures onboard the aircraft changed as a result of the attempted attack on Christmas day. So, there is a great irony to all of this, of course, as the very plane we were waiting for, it turns out, is the very plane involved in today's incident.

WHITFIELD: And, again, Martin, according to one law enforcement source, Jeanne Meserve is reporting that this does not right now appear to be a serious incident. The person that, as we understand, is still in custody and being questioned, does not a threat, however, they have not given us an all clear. They have not given anyone an all clear We still see the emergency vehicles parked outside that aircraft that just landed after noontime, Eastern Time and that crew onboard that flight called in saying this was an unruly passenger. We understand from one source that this passenger was in the bathroom for one hour. We don't know what other activity was taking place that was so suspicious to raise the concern of the crew members. Have you learned anything more on that?

SAVIDGE: Well, as I pointed out earlier, what is just striking is the difference in perhaps the attitude of the focus of the person that was involved. In other words, when you remember what happened on Christmas day with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, he was silent the entire time. The passengers said at no time did he ever shout, did he ever speak out, did he ever indicate that there was going to be a problem when, in fact, there was, of course, when he attempted to detonated the device.

Today it's different, totally different sort of scenario that is portrayed. Similar perhaps in the sense that you had suspicious activity, but this time you have a person who appears to be drawing attention to themselves, verbally and in the way they speak and apparently confrontational in their attitude with flight personnel onboard the aircraft. So, there is a slight difference, there. But that doesn't necessarily mean that these are totally different scenarios or maybe they are. All of that is being worked on. But it clearly by the posture that we're starting to see as this unfolds here in Detroit, it does not have the dire sense of urgency. It does not -- you don't get that sense of an extreme problem, say, that was being felt here on Christmas day.

As time has progressed, as there has been a greater control of more emergency and law enforcement brought to the scene, it's a clear indication here that they've got it under control and this is not as serious and that's what we've learned.

WHITFIELD: And the more than 200 passengers and crew that deplaned from that aircraft and have been taken to some undisclosed location for questioning is it your view that they would be questioned right there on the property of the airport before being brought back to be released?

SAVIDGE: If they are going it be questioned, yeah, that would most likely be the place. They had the facilities and they had the room. You want to keep all these people together and you want to try to talk to them as close to the event as possible. If, in fact, that is the plan. It could be that if this situation is not so serious they don't need to interview the passengers then they were brought in and go through regular deplaning and that you would have to do when coming from a flight overseas. In other words, they've got to go through customs, they got to make sure the documents check and then reunited with their loved ones and then eventually, although judging by the images we're seeing from the runway, could be awhile before they're reunite with their luggage. WHITFIELD: All right, Martin Savidge there in Detroit. Appreciate that, former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, is joining us from San Francisco.

And so Tom, I'm wondering situations like this when now we have various bits of information coming from various sources, one in particular who says this appears to be a non serious, not a serious situation. Would they continue to question passengers and crew members before releasing that kind of information about this passenger not seemingly to be very much of a threat?

THOMAS FUENTES, FMR. FBI ASSISANT DIRECTOR: Hi, Fredricka. I think given what happened on Christmas Day they will probably be much more extensive in terms of interviewing the passengers to make sure this is absolutely, you know, an isolated incident. I would add that if must have been very clear to the cockpit crew and to the captain of that flight that there was no imminent danger and there was no threat of an explosive device from that subject or when that plane landed if they thought there was still an undetonated device on that plane you would have seen the passengers using the emergency chutes and being taken away from that aircraft as quickly as they could run from the aircraft.

So, the fact that they took the normal walkways down, the fact that the baggage's strewn out on the tarmac for examination would indicate that they did not believe they had an explosive threat at the time but they're going to be extra cautious and check all that extra baggage. Because obviously that baggage next will end up in the main terminal, so they want to be extra cautious with it. But you don't know what has happened at this point. The authorities will be questioning the subject.

He could have been physically ill, he could be mentally ill and he could, he could, you know, possibly, as remote as it sounds been unaware of what happened on Christmas Day but give on the increased security in the airport, he could even be a copy cat jerk and just want to draw attention to himself and want to raise an issue knowing that the flight crew and the passengers are going to be very, very upset and very scared that a repeat incident is occurring.

WHITFIELD: Could you also see it potentially as people becoming so hypersensitive as a result of what happened on Christmas Day that perhaps the slightest of things become, I guess, reason for unusual behavior of someone being in a bathroom too long and that that seems unusual and maybe that person must be up to no good.

FUENTES: Well, we can understand if passengers are hypersensitive, as you say. But these flight crews are very well trained. They're very professional to remain calm under fire and they're used to dealing with unruly, intoxicated, mentally disturbed, and physically disturbed passengers. So, they're not going to be unprofessional in how they go about this or how they report the incident. So, I wouldn't expect that.

WHITFIELD: OK, Martin Savidge is still with us, Tom, there at Detroit Airport. Martin, what more are you learning? SAVIDGE: Well, I think what we're learning is that, you know, this is not the same circumstance that we dealt with on Christmas Day. However, here in Detroit they are not taking anything by chance. The fact that they have now realized that there is no explosive device on or in the company of the person that has been apparently taken into custody doesn't mean, perhaps, that there couldn't be a device somewhere on the aircraft. In other words, maybe this passenger was meant to be a distraction. Of course that could be a very strange scenario, but in this town, as a result of what happened on Christmas Day, as is the case probably in any airport now across the nation, they are not going to let an incident like this pass and simply say take that unruly passenger off and let's get back to normal.

Every bag's going to be checked. Every possibility and every lead and everything that looks out of the ordinary will be checked and double checked before they let anyone go on their way. There are historic reasoning's for this and that is, of course, that those who conduct acts of terror tend to be repetitive and especially if they do not succeed the first time, they tend to go back and attempt to try it again. I think that historic precedence shows that you have to remain alert even after the initial incident. Maybe this is no where as serious but you can never say you didn't try because as security officials will always maintain, the terrorist only has to get it right once. Security people have to be right every single time and that includes today.

WHITFIELD: Tom Fuentes, back with us from San Francisco we're talking about this incident or at least this landing taking place about three hours ago and the activity is still such that security is taking this very seriously and the aircraft is still on the tarmac in a remote location of the airport property and they're still looking through this luggage because it's still laid out on the tarmac and looking at emergency vehicles in place and emergency vehicles leaving this scene and still no idea about the passengers and this person who was in question in custody when any of them are going to be released. Is this unusual or normal in your view, Tom?

FUENTES: No, just, I'm sorry, just the sheer number of people it is going to take time if they are interviewing the passengers and trying to make sure that there wasn't another passenger that may have been traveling with this individual even if not seated directly with him. The examination of the baggage, as I mentioned, they are going to want to be absolutely certain before they take that into the main terminal where it is around dozens or hundreds of people.

As far as the questioning of the subject the FBI would be questioning him and they are going to be trying to make a determination as I mentioned earlier what was the motivation for the disruptive behavior. Now, this type of behavior except for what happened on Christmas Day, but this type of behavior is common. It happens all the time and it is a federal violation to create a disturbance or be disorderly on an aircraft while those doors are shut. So, as the airplane is preparing to fly in flight or landing, it is a federal, it's in federal authority. So, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, you know, would be investigating as a federal offense. The U.S. Attorney's office could say we don't think this incident is going to rise to the level of a federal prosecution and give the local police the case and the local police can determine whether to bring state of Michigan charges against the individual. That's all going to be determined during the questioning process based on subject himself. What were the motivations? Why did he act the way he acted and, as I said, he can even be a mental patient and we don't know that.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we don't know anything about this person as of yet. Tom Fuentes thanks so much. If you're just now joining us you're looking at the tarmac at Detroit Airport. You are looking at Northwest flight 253, a flight that made its way from Amsterdam to Detroit. This is not from Christmas Day, this is taped from today because a very similar flight plan got into trouble on Christmas Day and that as you know is resulted into the charging of a Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day and now today two days after that incident, similar problems taking place with this same flight plan.

But this time we understand, according to Delta Airlines, which has merged with Northwest Airlines, that there was an unruly passenger onboard. The crew onboard then called the TSA and said have emergency crews out at the ready there in Detroit Airport when we arrive and that they did. You're still seeing the scene there of emergency crews there in place. Buses were there for the passengers and crew when they deplaned. We understand now three hours after the landing of this aircraft people are still being questioned, but one government source is telling CNN that it appears that this unruly passenger is not determined to be a threat as yet.

We have not gotten an all clear there at Detroit Airport. Many folks who are flying in and out of Detroit we understand from our correspondents on the ground had no idea that there was even this emergency taking place because planes are landing and taking off as scheduled anyway. We're going to have much more on this incident, this new emergency taking place or emergency response taking place there out of Detroit Airport straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back you're looking at live pictures right now of Detroit Metro Airport. Emergency crews are in place because a Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit the crew called the TSA saying we have an unruly passenger onboard and we want support when we land. The plane landed safely and once on the ground was taken to a remote location of the Detroit Airport there where emergency crews were in place. All the passengers and crew were put on buses and that was three hours ago. As we understand crew and passengers are still being questioned, but one source is telling CNN that it appears that that unruly passenger, the person who Delta Airlines described as being verbally abusive that apparently they are not considered to be a threat of yet.

We have not gotten any official confirmation of that, that coming from one source and we have seen some police vehicles and other emergency vehicles leave this scene, but you still see right now some of the lights still under way and airplanes still in place. Luggage was removed from that aircraft spread out on the tarmac. We saw a dog being led with a handler around that luggage.

We don't know what kind of discovers were made, but we did hear from our Jeanne Meserve. One of her sources saying that there were no suspicious devices that were located from the person considered unruly nor on the aircraft. We have with us Martin Savidge who is in Detroit at the airport and we also have Tom Fuentes who was formerly with the FBI. Tom, let me go with you joining us from San Francisco to give us an idea of the routine that ordinarily takes place. Now, this is unusual because this incident is taking place two days after the Christmas Day incident when a Nigerian has actually been imposed with charges now of trying to blow up an aircraft and that comes just one day after he was levied those charges. So give me an idea of the process here that has been taking place. Tom, can you hear me?

FUENTES: Yes, I'm sorry, Fredricka. Could you ask the question one more time? I had something come up in my ear.

WHITFIELD: How unusual is this process or is this simply heightened as a result of what took place two days ago?

FUENTES: I think certainly there is a heightened security expectation. As I mentioned, unruly passengers occur all the time on flights all over for a variety of reasons. So, flight crews are used to and trained heavily to deal with that kind of a situation, to try to make a determination whether the individual poses a threat to the aircraft and they need to make an emergency landing and use the chutes to get everybody off as quickly as possible or whether the passenger and the situation can be neutralized on the flight and at least the passengers can be taken off in a safe, orderly manner and the individual taken into custody for further questioning and determination.

Now, the reporting that he's considered or not considered to be a threat any more that's one thing, but the other thing is the disruption on an aircraft or disorderly conduct is a federal offense. So, that's a determination being made now is that given the behavior that occurred on that aircraft as it rised to a federal prosecution, a local prosecution or no prosecution and that's the type of questioning that will be going on with the subject and with all the passengers and flight crew.

WHITFIELD: When you mention disorderly conduct, can that be pretty arbitrary, is that the discretion of the crew what they determine to be unusual, out of the ordinary kind of behavior or does it need to fit a certain definition?

FUENTES: Certainly, it's the discretion of the crew but they're used to dealing with this and they are not used to having their flight crew members have to testify in courts all over the world all the time. So, they are very patient and I have observed this myself and been summoned by them on many flights in the past where they say we have somebody who is borderline and they may ask you for help and they try to defuse it to the extent they can and not have it rise up or elevate the situation. They try to neutralize it safely. WHITFIELD: All right. Tom Fuentes thanks so much. Formally of the FBI thanks for helping us get an idea of the procedure here. Again, you're still looking at images at Detroit Airport after the crew onboard this Amsterdam to Detroit Northwest flight 253 said that they needed some support on the ground because a passenger was unruly. Three hours ago, that plane safely landed and everyone onboard was deplaned and now you still see the images of the luggage on the tarmac, but we understand from at least one government source, they did not find any unusual or dangerous devices on the person in question who remains in custody who they continue to question.

Nor have we learned anything more about whether this is, indeed, a threat. One source is telling us that this does not appear to be a threat; however, the scene is still active. We'll have much more on this incident out of Detroit right after this.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. You're looking at pictures right now in Detroit. The Metropolitan Airport there and that's Northwest Airlines flight 253, which made a landing, a safe landing there in Detroit after taking off from Amsterdam, but what was unusual here is that the crew onboard this flight called the TSA and said we've got an unruly passenger. Delta Airlines describes the person as a verbally abusive passenger. Emergency crews were at the ready when this aircraft landed safely it was taken to a remote location there at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Passengers, crew members were put on buses and that was over three hours ago where we understand many of them are still being questioned, but we also see there that many emergency vehicles have left the scene, still luggage is spread out on the tarmac even after the dogs have gone through the luggage, one source was telling our correspondents and our staff here that it does not appear to be a serious threat. They did not locate any alarming items on this person who remains in custody. Our Homeland Security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, continuing to work her sources, she will join us momentarily. Former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes is joining also from San Francisco and Martin Savidge is at the Detroit Airport. Martin, let me begin with you. What are you learning about the activity where this plane remains parked?

SAVIDGE: It is located on a very isolated part of the Detroit Metro Airport; it is probably judging the distance about a mile, maybe a mile and a half from the main terminal or the main area of the Detroit Airport. As is customary in a case like this, when you have an aircraft that has a problem and if there was any security concern you want to make sure you keep it away from the terminal and you put it in an area where you can control it. Clearly this is an example of what is taking place.

It was surrounded by the emergency vehicles and they have been there the entire time. And then there were buses, shuttle buses that were brought in to remove the passengers and bring them to the terminal eventually. You can imagine for authorities here in Detroit and, of course in Washington, the moment that call came in and it is the same flight, 253, the same airline, and it is coming from Amsterdam and coming into Detroit, when they received that notification today, how hearts must have skipped a beat.

Now it appears that this is not a serious situation. The local FBI has notified us and said they have given the all-clear but in typical cautionary style they say the all-clear for now. It shows you how much on edge authorities and the officials here in the Detroit area and airports across the country remain on edge as a result of the Christmas Day incident. But it appears that we are in the final stages of at least ending today's drama and it also appears it is nowhere near serious and that no one has been injured and no damage to aircraft and the best scenario you can have.


WHITFIELD: Yes, it is understandable that the heightened sensitivity this comes just one day after Umar Farouk Adulmutallab was formally charged with trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day. And as you mentioned Martin, the same flight plan. Northwest Airlines, flight 253, from Amsterdam to Detroit. But it is our understanding that those passengers and crew that deplaned from this aircraft still have not been released. They are not able to go on about their way and what about the person who was considered to be disruptive? That person still in custody?

SAVIDGE: That we hear. We also heard unconfirmed that he's asking now for medical attention. Exactly why that is, how serious the medical attention, we don't know. We have not had access, of course. Authorities kept him constrained and the same for the passengers. Now, any time you come off an international flight, on this delay as much as this one has, there are procedures that have to be followed. As we pointed out, it may be the case that these passengers are now being sequestered and there will be an accounting as to every one of them as to what they saw, what they know, what took place on that aircraft, standard operating procedure of any investigation.

That could be delaying them. Believe me there are a lot of people who are anxiously waiting to have a word with them, including members of the media, to find out exactly what happened.

WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Martin Savidge thanks so much. We are seeing movement of that aircraft. Perhaps that is, indeed, an indication that they are at the final stages of this investigation. It is being towed there, as you see. We can also see the snow flurries and the weather there is getting to be rather nasty. We also understand that there are many flights in the air trying to make their approach to Detroit Airport. Not sure if the weather is a factor or if it was this end of the investigation that is a factor. When we come right back, we are going to talk about how other flights have been impacted by this emergency at Detroit Metropolitan Airport today.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. You are watching live pictures right now of Northwest Airlines flight 253. That's Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The plane is now moving after being static for over three hours after the safe landing in Detroit. What was concerning was that the crew onboard called the TSA and said we have an unruly passenger onboard and we are going to need some emergency support when we land. Emergency support was on the ground when that flight landed safely. Everyone was deplaned. All the passengers and crew they were put on buses. They were taken to an undisclosed location and presumably questioned.

That passenger who was considered unruly, that person was also taken into custody, and was also being questioned. We are getting information from various sources saying that this does not appear to be a serious incident as -- anymore. And that perhaps there may be an all-clear soon to be coming from this incident. A good sign is you are see thing aircraft now moving after being in a static location for three hours. All the luggage was taken off as well. We were able to see live pictures of that luggage on the tarmac as the dogs went through it and sniffing.

We also understand from one other source that there were no suspicious items found on that quote, unquote unruly passenger or -- in the proximity of that passenger. However, we still don't know where the passengers or the crew, whether they have yet to be released so they can go on about their way. All of this taking place just one day after a Nigerian was formally charged with trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight 253. Same flight two days ago on Christmas Day. So Bonnie Schneider is in our Weather Center and she has been keeping a close watch on the flight plan surrounding involving other aircraft, surrounding that Detroit Airport. And were other landings and takeoffs disrupted by this investigation?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, so far it looks like right now that all the planes that were still en route too Detroit are still scheduled to land. This is a look at Google Earth; I kind of zoomed into the Detroit Metropolitan Airport just to give you an idea of what it looks like. And this is flight explorer. What I have done here, there's actually about 6200 planes in the air across the U.S. and normally when we show this, we show all the activity.

What you are seeing now are all the planes, about 64 of them, on route to Detroit. It does look like there is a bit of a curvature and a little bit of a slowdown. I will open it up wider so you can see that where planes may be circling a little bit. All the flights that are headed for Detroit are still en route. And they are coming in from all over the country and all over the world. Some as far south as South America. So we are tracking them for you here on flight explorer. The weather conditions, though, are a little snowy in Detroit.