AirTran had previously taken issue with many of the specifics of Petruna's self-aggrandizing account, which the company describes as "an urban legend." To be sure, the email contains no shortage of melodrama.
Would a real Muslim terrorist as opposed to, say, one you might see depicted in a Hollywood action picture, or a comic book actually yell "Shut up, infidel dog!" at a flight attendant?
More to the point, would they do so during what is supposed to be an undercover "terrorist dry run"?
You be the judge.
Update #1: More eyewitness testimony
Laura Armstrong of the Marietta Daily Journal provided two new pieces of information in her Dec. 6, 2009 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," claims he was, in fact, on the plane and has a boarding pass to prove it.
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.
Update #2: Flight attendant affidavits contradict Petruna's claims
Feb. 23, 2010 - 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...
Sources and further reading:
AirTran 'Hero' Wasn't on Plane, Airline Says
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5 December 2009
AirTran 297 - Anatomy of an Urban Legend
AirTran Airways, 4 December 2009
The Curious Case of AirTran Flight 297
Marietta Daily Journal, 6 December 2009
AirTran Flight 297 Incident
by Dr. Keith A. Robinson
AirTran Email Stirs Up Internet Firestorm
KHOU-TV News, 6 December 2009
What Really Happened on Flight 297
The Economist, 7 December 2009
New Docs On Disputed AirTran Flight Shows No Muslim Hijack Attempt
Talking Points Memo, 23 February 2010
Last updated 10/05/11