(UPDATED) The "eyewitness" who wrote a viral email describing a minor passenger disturbance aboard AirTran Airways Flight 297 in the Atlanta airport November 17 as a "terrorist dry run" wasn't even on the plane, airline officials said in a statement quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday.
Tedd Petruna was booked on Flight 297, the statement confirmed, but his connecting flight from Akron arrived too late for him to board the Houston-bound plane. (NOTE: Petruna has responded that he was, in fact, on the plane and claims he has a boarding pass to prove it. See update below.)
Would a real Muslim terrorist (as opposed to, say, one you might see depicted in a B movie or a comic book) yell "Shut up, infidel dog!" at a flight attendant?
Would they do so during what is supposed to be a secret "terrorist dry run"?
You be the judge.
Laura Armstrong of the Marietta Daily Journal provided two new pieces of information in her December 6 column, "The Curious Case of Air Tran Flight 297."
First, she spoke to Tedd Petruna, who, though he admits "taking artistic license with a couple of points," says he was, in fact, on the plane and has a boarding pass to prove it. Now it's a question of Petruna's documentation against the airline's. Let's hope the opportunity to compare the two presents itself.
Second, Armstrong spoke to another passenger on Flight 297, security expert Brent C. Brown, who backs up some, but not all, of Petruna's account, including the allegation that the "suspicious men" were belligerent and refused to sit down, creating tension and "chaos" aboard the plane. According to Armstrong, Brown described the passengers who chose to get off the plane when it returned to the gate as "traumatized." (See video of Brown answering questions about the incident via WSB-TV in Atlanta.)
Brown's observations conflict with certain aspects of the airline's version of events, while confirming several of the claims of another (partial) eyewitness, Dr. Keith Robinson, a chaplain from Texas. Robinson wasn't yet aboard the flight when the fracas occurred, but experienced its aftermath when he boarded after the plane returned to the gate. He noted a considerable degree of agitation and stress among the deboarding crew and passengers, as well as those who stayed on the flight, which he took as an indication that something more serious had happened than the airline admits.
02/23/10 Update:Affidavits filed the day of the incident by all three flight attendants aboard Flight 297 describe problems they had dealing with a group of passengers described as "unruly" and "uncooperative," but there's no mention of men in "Muslim garb" shouting threats in Arabic or having physical confrontations with other passengers. View the documents...
• Viral Email: Flight 297 Atlanta to Houston
• AirTran 'Hero' Wasn't on Plane, Airline Says
• AirTran 297 - Anatomy of an Urban Legend
• The Curious Case of AirTran Flight 297
• AirTran Flight 297 Incident (by Dr. Keith A. Robinson)
• AirTran Email Stirs Up Internet Firestorm
• New Docs On Disputed AirTran Flight Shows No Muslim Hijack Attempt