- A federal air marshal was removed from a United Airlines subsidiary flight on Monday night after a flight attendant saw the gun he was carrying and issued an emergency alert, the Star Tribune reported.
- The air marshal and another man were taken off the plane and handcuffed before being questioned by the FBI at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the report said.
- The Transportation Security Administration said the flight attendant mistook the air marshal for a passenger. But the Star Tribune reported that the air marshal showed the flight attendant his gun and that it was why an emergency was declared.
A federal air marshal was hauled off a United Airlines regional partner plane in handcuffs after a flight attendant saw the gun he was carrying and issued an emergency alert in concert with the crew, the Star Tribune reported on Tuesday.
The incident occurred late Monday on United Airlines Flight 3531, a nonstop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The flight was operated by Republic Airlines, an Indianapolis-based regional partner of United Airlines and other major carriers.
A representative for Republic Airlines, Jon Austin, told Business Insider in a statement: “The safety and security of our customers and employees is our top priority. We are aware of this incident and are working with investigators.”
Neither the Transportation Security Administration nor United responded to Business Insider request for comment.
In a statement to the Star Tribune, the TSA said: “A Federal Air Marshal on official business onboard a flight was mistaken for a passenger by a flight attendant. Protocols for notification of law enforcement presence aboard an aircraft are in place to avoid an incident like this. TSA is working with the airline to determine the specific circumstances in this case.”
According to CBS4 Minnesota, the flight landed in Minneapolis at 11:30 p.m. but did not make it to the gate. A woman on the flight told the Star Tribune that passengers were told the landing was delayed because of an occupied gate. She said that police cars surrounded the plane after it landed and that two men dressed in slacks and button-down shirts were removed from the plane and handcuffed.
While the TSA indicated the flight attendant was to blame, it appears the air marshal may have violated protocol.
Citing recordings from Liveatc.net, the Star Tribune reported that it was confirmed rather quickly during the flight that the two men were air marshals and that one of them showed the flight attendant his gun. From there, the flight attendant alerted the cockpit.
“That is completely against SOP [standard operating procedure] for them to show their firearm,” the pilot said in the recordings, according to the Star Tribune. “So that’s the reason we declared an emergency.”
Following their removal from the plane, the two men were questioned by the FBI at the airport, according to the Star Tribune. The publication said the TSA confirmed that both were federal air marshals.
CBS4 Minnesota reported that the FBI was investigating the incident.