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Passenger's Bomb Threat Diverts Flight

A man who claimed to have a bomb aboard a United Airlines flight was subdued by fellow passengers as the California-bound plane was diverted to Denver International Airport, airport officials said.

Two F-16 fighter jets from Buckley Air Force Base scrambled to escort the plane as it flew into Denver Friday, according to Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a spokesman for NORAD.

Three Secret Service agents traveling between assignments who happened to be on the plane helped detain the passenger, said Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren.

Authorities said Jose Manuel Pelayo-Ortega, whose age and hometown were not immediately released, tried to open a door on the Airbus A-320 en route from Chicago to Sacramento, Calif., and then claimed to have a bomb forcing the emergency landing in Denver.

The FBI said the incident began approximately two hours into its flight. Agents said Pelayo-Ortega started claiming he had a bomb on
Board, reports Charlotte Fadipe of CBS affiliate KVOR-TV in Sacramento.

"He went straight to the exit door," passenger Keith Pasquini said of Pelayo-Ortega, adding that the man shouted that he wanted to die. "The flight attendant shouted at him in aloud voice to get away from the door and he tried turning the lever, but the door wouldn't open."

The apparatus that could ultimately have led to the plane with 138 passengers and six crew members being shot down, put in place after 9-11, was fully operational Friday, with agencies that included the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security on an open phone line monitoring the flight.

Had the plane "been judged as a threat by the highest levels of our government, they could make the decision to have the plane shot down," said Kelly.

President Bush would ultimately make the decision.

A "shoot-don't shoot" scenario didn't develop because the plane was following all FAA instructions. One of the last resorts would have included the fighter pilots either talking to or attempting to talk to the pilot of the airliner, which didn't happen Friday, Kelly said

The fighter jets out of Buckley Air Force Base east of Denver "followed to make sure nothing untoward was going to happen," Kelly said.

Since Sept. 11, fighters have been scrambled hundreds of times, though figures weren't immediately available on how many have been sent to intercept commercial jetliners like the ones that crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The Boeing 767 airliner, carrying 183 passengers and 14 crew members on which would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was on in December 2001, was escorted to Boston by two fighter jets.

With the fighter jet escort, the United plane landed at about 4:30 p.m. in a remote area of the airport where it was searched. Passengers were bused to the terminal and questioned by authorities and Pelayo-Ortego was arrested.

No one aboard Flight 735 were injured, said United spokesman Brandon Borrman.

Pelayo-Ortega was in a Denver jail awaiting federal charges. FBI spokeswoman Monique Kelso said he will be charged on Monday.

Kelso said authorities searched the aircraft for explosives and re-screened luggage as well as the passengers before they were allowed to re-board the plane, which left for its original destination at about 7:30 p.m.

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