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Air Force veteran made false threat aboard jet

A man caused a plane to be diverted after a note was found claiming he had a fake passport and then told federal air marshals he had dynamite in his boots and in his laptop computer.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An airline passenger who caused a Delta Air Lines jetliner to be diverted to Maine aroused attention with a note claiming he had a fake passport before telling federal air marshals that he had dynamite in his boots and in his laptop computer, the FBI says in court documents.

Derek Stansberry, a former Air Force member, told the FBI after the plane landed in Maine that he had taken the sleeping aid Ambien, that he thought he was being followed and that fellow passengers were talking about him, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

Air marshals and flight attendants kept Stansberry in the back of the Airbus A330 and piled up seat cushions, pillows and blankets around his laptop and a backpack containing the boots "to dampen the effects of any potential explosion," FBI Special Agent James McCarty wrote in the affidavit. A search of the plane later indicated there were no explosives.

Stansberry, 26, of Riverview, Fla., is charged with false information and threats, and interfering with a flight crew.

Passengers reported no shouting or struggle aboard Flight 273 before the airplane with 235 passengers and 13 crew members landed safely just after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bangor.

The Air Force veteran told FBI agents after the plane landed that there were no explosives and that he made the claim to divert attention from the fact that he was in possession of "classified information," according to the affidavit.

The Air Force said Stansberry was a former intelligence specialist who served four years, ending his Air Force career as a senior airman in 2009 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Stansberry's father, Richard Stansberry, said he was perplexed after government officials told him that his son had been detained at Bangor International Airport.

"My son's profession in the military required he live a squeaky clean life," Richard Stansberry said.

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Flight 273 was the first of two flight diversions in a 24-hour period. On Wednesday, a Continental Express flight from Houston to the Washington area was diverted to North Carolina after a threatening message was written on a bathroom mirror, the Transportation Security Administration said.

In Maine, weary travelers were happy to put the episode behind them after Flight 273 finally departed at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday after three hours of additional delays.

The day before, they had been told to stay in their seats because of turbulence. They reported that calm prevailed when they later learned the truth: there was a security threat.

"It was scary for three hours, but we bonded and kept each other's spirits high," said Nancy Albertson, of Charlottesville, Va. Some passengers prayed together, she said.

Among the passengers spending the night in Bangor were Charde Houston, an all-star for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, and J. Alexander, featured on the TV show "America's Next Top Model."

"Some crazy person almost screwed up my trip," Alexander told reporters Tuesday night after clearing customs. "Now I can say I've experienced that and I don't want it to happen again."

The Bangor airport is accustomed to dealing with diverted flights.

It's the first large U.S. airport for incoming European flights, and it's the last U.S. airport for outgoing flights, with uncluttered skies and one of the longest runways on the East Coast. Aircraft use the airport when there are mechanical problems, medical emergencies or unruly passengers.