News Articles

Baptist missions volunteer finds bomb threat letter on jetliner

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)–An American Airlines flight from New York to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport made an unscheduled landing Monday night, Oct. 29, after a passenger found a written bomb threat on board, officials said.

The note was a hoax, according to an FBI agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. The woman who discovered the note, Rose Harris, was part of a 15-member volunteer mission team from the Church of Rush Creek in Arlington, Texas, that had been assisting a new church start in Manhattan’s upper west side.

Flight 785 from La Guardia Airport landed just after 6 p.m. Dallas time at Washington Dulles International Airport in suburban Virginia.

The 141 passengers and eight crew members on the Boeing 757 were evacuated using emergency slides, according to a recorded statement by airline spokesman Gus Whitcomb. Some passengers suffered sprains and other minor injuries while exiting the plane.

Harris broke her ankle in two places during the evacuation from the airplane, Russ Barksdale, pastor of the church, said. Barksdale was also on the jetliner. He said several other church members sustained minor injuries.

Harris was treated at an area hospital and later rejoined the team for the trip back to Dallas.

Barksdale said he was surprised at how calm his fellow passengers remained during the tense moments following the bomb threat.

“We had been in the air for about 45 minutes when the pilot came on and said that a lady had found a disturbing note,” Barksdale told Baptist Press. “It turned out to be Rose. She had pulled down her dinner tray and the note fell out. The note said there was a bomb on the plane and it was going to blow up at 8 p.m.”

The passengers were not informed about the time, Barksdale said.

“The pilot told us we were going to set down at Dulles,” he said. “I was never really alarmed, but five minutes later he authorized the flight attendants to enact emergency procedures and showed us how to get down the emergency slides.”

The plane was cruising at about 35,000 feet when Barksdale said the plane started coming down fast.

“They didn’t tell us information about what was in the note, but word was circulating around the cabin,” Barksdale said. “One of my associate pastors was sitting with Rose and trying to calm her down.”

When the plane landed, Barksdale said another church member, former flight attendant Toni Gardner, sprung into action, assisting the crew.

“She did one of the best jobs,” Barksdale said. “She was stationed at a door window and when we stopped, she opened it up, walked onto the wing and deployed the slide. Our guys were amazed at how strong she was.”

Despite being a flight attendant for 10 years, this was her first emergency landing, Barksdale said.

“The American Airlines people were great,” the pastor said. “The pilot and copilot kept us informed and there was no sense of panic.”

As for the mission team members, Barksdale said they prayed throughout the ordeal and noted that no one was in a panic.

“We had a group of people not looking to check out,” Barksdale said. “But we were prepared if we had to. It’s one of those things where you are thankful to be safe.”

After the plane landed at Dulles, two airport runways were closed for an hour and 40 minutes while investigators searched the aircraft with bomb-sniffing dogs.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes