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Jetliner Grounded in San Francisco after Hijack Threat

A hijack threat halted an American Airlines flight just before takeoff Thursday, leaving the New York-bound jet sitting on the tarmac for several hours while it was searched and passengers were removed for extra scrutiny, AP reports.

The FBI later determined that the telephoned threat wasn’t credible, but in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and a series of airline scares in the past year, the incident still rattled nerves as it played out live on national TV.

American Airlines Flight 24, with 163 passengers and a crew of 11, was already running two-and-a-half hours late when it pulled away from the gate at 10 am. Minutes later, it was being dispatched to a remote stretch of tarmac at San Francisco International Airport where it sat for two hours.

The threat report originated from clerk at a business in Alameda, a city across San Francisco Bay from the airport, said Lt. Bill Scott. 

The clerk called police shortly after 9 am Thursday and said the business had received an anonymous phone call “making a threat specifically about Flight 24,” Scott said.

KTVU-TV identified the hotel as the Hampton Inn and Suites. The general manager, Druv Patel, told the station the call was taken around 9 a.m. by a clerk who had a difficult time understanding the caller.

“The guy was rambling on in almost a rant,” Patel said in describing the call. “He [the clerk] had to calm him down.”

“The first 15 seconds were just all mumble, jibberish, couldn’t understand, couldn’t pick anything up,” said Patel.

“What he did gather is, ‘I’m going to hijack flight 24 on American Airlines.'”

FBI spokesperson Joseph Schadler said officials acted quickly and the Transportation Security Administration ordered the plane away from the main terminal.

“We take any threat against an airline or potential terrorist activity very seriously,” he said. “You treat them like it’s real until proven otherwise because the cost of failure is so high.”