(CNN) – An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to London was diverted to New York early Thursday after a crew member became suspicious of one of the passengers, an airline spokeswoman said.
The crew member aboard Flight 136 – scheduled to fly nonstop from Los Angeles International Airport to London Heathrow Airport – questioned a passenger whom the employee said he saw bypassing security by traveling on an employee-only bus from the parking lot to the LAX airport, according to spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon.
After that conversation, officials decided to divert the Boeing 777, Whitemon said. The plane landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport about 2:30 a.m. ET.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told CNN that American Airlines said in an early statement the passenger might have been an off-duty employee.
“I think they’re still in the process of sorting this out,” he said of airport officials. “It may turn out that this is nothing more than a misunderstanding with an employee who used an employee bus to get on a plane for a private flight.”
Whitemon told CNN the passenger is not an American Airlines employee.
According to Russ Knocke, with the Department of Homeland Security, American Airlines security officials identified the man as an executive platinum traveler with the airline who purchased his round-trip ticket on April 19.
Knocke did not say whether the man had proper identification when he boarded the employee shuttle and passed through the employee access-only entrance.
“The good news here is that you have somebody who’s alert on the crew and they take appropriate steps at that point to deal with what might be a potentially dangerous situation,” Chertoff said. “That’s exactly what we are asking people to do: If you see something, say something.”
Anthony Loynes, one of the 188 passengers aboard the flight, told CNN the pilot told passengers the plane was stopping at JFK because the plane did not have enough fuel to make it to London.
Shortly after landing, Loynes said, security officials boarded the plane and left with a man of “Middle Eastern descent.” A woman sitting next to the man was also questioned, he added.
All passengers were subsequently taken off the plane and the cabin was scheduled to undergo a security sweep, the airlines spokeswoman said.
The plane left Los Angeles at about 6 p.m. (9 p.m. ET) Wednesday night, and had been scheduled to arrive in London at 12:25 p.m. (7:25 a.m. ET). Most or all of the passengers were put on another American Airlines flight, which was scheduled to arrive at Heathrow at 8:25 p.m. Thursday (3:25 p.m. ET)