An Air France jetliner en route from Paris to Boston was diverted to Maine on Thursday to check on a passenger who happened to have almost the same name and the same birthdate as someone on a no-fly list suspected of terror connections, officials said.
The flight continued to Boston less than two hours later without the passenger of interest and three of his family members, said Rebecca Hupp, director of the Bangor airport.
When the Airbus A-330, carrying 169 passengers, landed in Maine, federal officials escorted a man, a woman, a young child and a baby off. The four were detained by federal immigration officials, said Ann Davis, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration in Boston.
The four were later released and allowed to continue their trip after officials determined the man was not the one on the no-fly list, TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said.
"You had a match of the name save for slight deviation in spelling and the exact date of birth," Hatfield said. He did not release the man's name, but said the man on the list is "a serious bad actor" with connections to terrorism.
"In the end, we're explaining a minor inconvenience rather than a major tragedy," Hatfield said.
Air France and Federal Aviation Administration officials reported nothing else unusual about the flight.
Investigators later concluded it was a coincidence that the passenger's name and birth date were identical to those of the person on the list, Leah Yoon, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, told the Bangor Daily News. The passenger and his family were then released and allowed to continue their trip.
Sabiha Bishara said the family boarded the flight at the same time as she did in Egypt before they flew to Paris, and she spoke to them in Arabic.
"They were sitting next to me, they were very normal people, there was nothing fishy about them," said Bishara, who was headed to the Boston area to attend her son's college graduation. "When the customs agents boarded, the wife was very surprised."
U.S. law requires airlines to transmit to the Homeland Security Department the passenger lists for flights bound for the U.S. within 15 minutes of takeoff. Officials then check the names against terrorist watch lists.
Bangor International Airport has a well-earned reputation as a stopping off point for trans-Atlantic flights. It is the last major U.S. airport for jets headed across the Atlantic and the first for incoming flights.
Last September, a London-to-Washington flight carrying the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens was diverted to Bangor. Security officials later said a gap in the airline passenger-check system permitted Yusuf Islam — the name the singer took after converting to Islam — to board the flight to the United States despite being on a no-fly list for suspected ties to terrorists. Islam has strongly denied the claim.