AR-OnlinePosted Thursday, December 27, 2001

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[Original story:]

Monday December 24, 2001  

[An eye-witness account of the American Airflines fight 63, Paris-Miami, near-disaster drama]

06:25 PM Flights MY flight to Cancun was late. That is, my flight from Paris to Miami (connecting to Cancun) was late. That is, American Airlines flight 63 on the 22nd Dec was late.

I was sitted in 28E. My sister was in 28G. Parents in 28H and 28J. Richard Reid was in 29H, just behind my mother. We'd actually boarded the flight late as the ground staff were on strike. The plane eventually left around an hour late. It was overbooked: people were offered vouchers to take a later plane. It was a pretty fun crowd, a holiday crowd, mostly French and Italians but many others too. We ascended, read the inflight magazine, ate a quick lunch and relaxed for a bit. I kind of dozed off.

I wake up as my sister smells burning. Like a match burning, or some plastic. We look around and a flight attendant tells 29H to "put it out". 29H was a bit of a dodgy guy. Tall, with a hat and unshaven.
Richard Reid, in US prison orange jumpsuit garb (AP Photo)
The flight attendant panics into the aisle and cries out for people to restrain him. At this point I imagined an explosion around the guy. Scary. We later find out she had been bitten and is bleeding. General panic ensues, but some rather large guys (not the crew, they were old and weak) start twisting his arms, wrestling him, and hold him down.

People throw water on him (everyone had smelt the burning). There were no restraints on board at all: we used belts, headphone wires, anything. The plane starts to descend. General panic. Everyone is ordered to sit down. People threaten to use fire extinguishers on 29H. "Is there a doctor on board".

Yes, two as it happens and they inject him with a sedative. The captain slowly gets us all to calm down. The staff get his shoes off (we wonder why?), his bag, his passport, maybe some drugs. Strong men are chosen to restrain him (they are relieved later on). The captain announces that we will be landing at Boston instead of Miami and that we'll be escorted by fighter pilots.

You can imagine us being slightly nervous at this point. We were forced to sit down. We had to put hands up to go to the toilet. Anyone standing up was a suspect. The crew decide to show the film Legally Blonde to calm us down. It kind of works, until we see F15 fighter jets on starboard. It seems that we landed quickly.

The aircraft goes to a quiet bit of the runway and we're surrounded by flashing lights. Police, fire, ambulance, state police etc. We get boarded by a SWAT team in full bulletproof gear and they take him away safely. We slowly deboard, go through customs, get stopped for two hours with no news, get moved to somewhere else (guarded by military police and only allowed to the toilet under escort).

Twenty FBI agents arrive and start interviewing everyone familiy by family. A nice FBI man named Jamey wishes my father happy birthday. We'd forgotten. Up to the interview nobody had really told us anything. We find out he had a fuse and some explosive in his shoes, possibly C4. and that he had tried to board the same flight the day before but was stopped by police. Only at this point to we realise how serious it is.

A guy calls his girlfriend and we find out we're on CNN (they mostly get everything correct). It is currently 9 pm. We're still in Boston airport. We've been up 24 hours (time differences). We're exhausted and stressed. The FBI have gone home. We head off to Miami very slowly. They check all our bags for explosives. The machine takes 15 mins per bag. There are about 200 bags. We point out it'll take more than a day. Mob rule when they're nasty to us. I was going to dive on my holidays. I think I'll just lie on the beach.

I've been saying "Are we there yet?" to my sister since we left the flat in Paris. I've said it a lot recently. Our journay took ages and was like Die Hard. My sister doesn't remember the last time she saw me use a pen. We end up stopping at NYC to change crew, hah! We eventually get to Cancun, seeing ourselves in the newspapers at Miami.

There is more stuff, but I'm not going to put it up now. I don't think I want to fly to San Diego for the Perl Conference. I thing I'm going by train to the German Perl Workshop. I'm fed up of the cheesy crisp snacks AA serve (we've had way too many of them). We're here. We've relaxed on the beach. We say hi to our fellow survivors(?). We party hard and try to chill. Not a relaxing holiday.

Are we really there yet? (please spread this wide and far)

[AR-Website note: The name of the author is not known]

Related item on this website:

Reid's British passport shows he had visited Israel some months earlier
Damage control by Israelis
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