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Confusion over a federal air marshal’s gun during a United Airlines flight from Newark (EWR) to Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) led to the agent being escorted off the plane by mistake on Monday night.
The United flight landed at MSP at 11:30pm, but it did not pull directly into a gate upon arrival. Passengers on board waited patiently while the plane sat on the tarmac, then suddenly police cars with lights and sirens began to surround the aircraft.
“The pilot came on and said to us that our gate was occupied, and we had to sit on the tarmac for a couple of minutes until the gate was cleared and we could proceed forward,” passenger Jennifer Bergman told CBS Minneapolis. “And then all of a sudden I noticed lights coming towards the plane in every direction.”
Then, four police officers board the plane, Bergman says. “They stopped in first class, pointed to two gentleman on each side of the aisles and asked them to go with them,” she explained. “The men, without incident, got up and left the plane.”
The TSA says that the man escorted off the flight for having a firearm was indeed a federal air marshal. “A Federal Air Marshal on official business onboard a flight was mistaken for a passenger by a flight attendant,” the TSA told CBS Minneapolis in a statement. “Protocols for notification of law enforcement presence aboard an aircraft are in place to avoid incident like this.”
Officials didn’t say who the second man was who was also escorted off the plane with the air marshal.
According to Bergman, the pilot told the passengers over the PA system that he couldn’t tell them the details of the situation but that the “matter has been taken care of.”
It is unclear how the miscommunication occurred or how protocol for notifying flight crew that an air marshal was on board lapsed. According to US Federal Regulations Title 49 a Federal Air Marshal typically identifies himself or herself to the aircraft operator by “presenting credentials that include a clear, full-face picture, the signature of the Federal Air Marshal, and the signature of the FAA Administrator.”
The FBI says it will be investigating the matter and notes that the miscommunication never put the other passengers in any danger.
“The safety and security of our customers and employees is our top priority,” a United spokesperson told CBS.
Featured image by AP Photo/Reed Saxon.
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