TORONTO - A Canadian charter plane bound for Panama was escorted by US fighter jets back to Toronto, where a passenger was removed by police after allegedly threatening the safety of the flight, police said on Friday.
Heavily-armed officers boarded the flight after it returned to Toronto at mid-morning, yelling "heads down, hands up!" as they entered the cabin, according to passenger video shown on CTV News.
The flight, bound for Panama City from Toronto and operated by Sunwing Airlines, was over West Virginia when it turned around after a passenger made a threat against the plane, said Lilly Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for Peel Regional Police, which has jurisdiction over Toronto's main airport. "It caused the pilot enough concern that he turned the plane around," Fitzpatrick said.
Ali Shahi, a 25-year-old Canadian, was taken into custody and charged with four counts, including uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft.
Two US F-16 fighter jets, which were doing training exercises in the area, shadowed the plane back to Toronto, where police met it on the runway. "We had fighters in the air doing training based out of Toledo, Ohio. So they were asked to shadow the flight as it returned to Toronto," said Jennifer Stadnyk, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defence Command.
The event comes as airline passenger nerves are perhaps a bit more frayed than normal following a number of crashes, including Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down last week in eastern Ukraine; TransAsia Airways flight GE222, which crashed while landing in heavy weather on Wednesday in Taiwan; and Air Algerie flight AH5017, which crashed on Thursday in Mali.