A woman on a trans-Atlantic flight diverted to Boston for security concerns passed several notes to crew members, urinated on the cabin floor and made comments the crew believed were references to al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks, according to an affidavit filed Thursday.
Catherine C. Mayo, 59, of Braintree, Vt., appeared in federal court Thursday on a charge of interfering with a flight crew on United 923 as it flew from London to Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
She was dressed in a Rolling Stones T-shirt and socks without shoes for the hearing and was ordered held pending a detention and probable cause hearing next Thursday.
Her attorney, federal public defender Page Kelley, said Mayo was “just barely lucid” when they spoke. “She’s got some very serious mental health problems.”
Mayo’s son, Josh, 31, described his mother as a peace activist and said she had been in Pakistan since March. She traveled there often since making a pen pal prior to Sept. 11, 2001, he said. The pen pal hasn’t been allowed to visit the U.S., he added.
“I guess she just had a bit of a bad time on the plane, and everybody’s a little paranoid,” the son said.
Columns criticize Bush
The scare aboard United 923 came just a week after London authorities said they foiled a terror plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights. As many as 17 people have been arrested in Pakistan in connection with the London terror plot, but federal officials have said they have no indications that Mayo had any links to terrorism.
Mayo does have clear connections to Pakistan. The Daily Times of Pakistan has published columns she has written, including one on March 18, 2003, in which she criticized President Bush.
“The folksongs of the 1960s will never be written again because of President George Bush,” she wrote. “He has hampered the liberties of my country in the name of September 11. Songs now can only talk of patriotism they cannot mention peace.”
Mayo’s passport indicates she left Pakistan and entered the United Kingdom on Tuesday, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Daniel Choldin filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.
In the affidavit, Choldin says flight attendants noticed Mayo about 90 minutes into the flight because she was pushing against the aircraft bulkhead. When the attendant told her to return to her seat, Mayo said she wanted to speak to an air marshal and made statements about knowing that people wanted to see what was in her bag.
‘Biting her fingers’
FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz confirmed Thursday that authorities found a screwdriver and an unspecified number of cigarette lighters in her bag, items which are banned under new security regulations. Marcinkiewicz also confirmed that matches were found Mayo’s bag.
She also had a bottle of water, which did not appear to be supplied by the flight crew. It wasn’t clear how the items made it through airport security, which is been significantly tightened since the terror plot arrests.
Later during the flight, according to the affidavit, Mayo asked a flight attendant: “Is this a training flight for United Flight 93?” The flight attendant didn’t know if she made a mistake because the flight was actually Flight 923, or if she was referring to Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.
She was “biting her fingers, rubbing her feet and in a constant state of movement. She appeared very agitated,” the affidavit said.
She also wrote in a note and said to flight attendants that she had been in a country illegally, and later said she had photographs of Pakistan.
“She stated that the photographs would be awful, and she indicated that they related to the people that she had been with in the mountains of Pakistan,” the affidavit said.
Flight attendants summoned the captain, who spoke to Mayo. During the conversation, she made reference to there being “six steps to building some unspecified thing.”
“She made reference to being with people associated with two words. She stated that she could not say what the two words were because the last time that she had said the two words she had been kicked off of a flight in the United Arab Emirates,” according to the affidavit.
The captain and purser both believed that she was referring to al-Qaida, Choldin wrote.
About 35 minutes later, when she tried to go to the bathroom, the flight attendants directed her to a different lavatory. Instead, she pulled down her pants and urinated on the floor, Choldin wrote in the affidavit, which was based on his interviews and those of other federal officials.
At that point, the captain ordered her restrained. Two male passengers helped a flight attendant tackle Mayo and restrain her in plastic cuffs.
‘Oh my god’
The flight, with 182 passengers, landed safely at Logan Airport with the escort of two F-15 fighter jets.
Gov. Mitt Romney said later that the woman was claustrophobic and became so upset that she had to be restrained. Passengers said she appeared to have emotional problems.
“She was in a frenzy,” passenger Martin Drinkwater of London told The Boston Globe. “She then pulled her trousers and knickers down and squatted on the floor.”
Antony Nash, 31, of San Diego, said he grew nervous watching the muttering woman seated near him, as she paced and made too many trips to the bathroom. The pilot did not make a general announcement to passengers of what was happening.
“I noticed F-15s next to the plane. I said, ‘Oh my God.’ And then we saw the emergency vehicles,” Nash said.