Korean jet home safely after bomb threat
More than 130 passengers from Korean Air flight KE72 which performed an emergency landing at the Comox Valley Airport Tuesday afternoon, safely arrived Thursday at their original destination of Seoul, South Korea.
The Boeing 777 departed from Vancouver International Airport at 2:35 p.m. April 10, and was intercepted by two United States Air Force F-15's, operating as part of NORAD – North American Aerospace Defense Command following a bomb threat.
Korean Air said a U.S. call centre received the threat about 25 minutes after the flight left Vancouver.
The aircraft, which landed at the Comox Valley Airport around 5:30 p.m., sat approximately one kilometre south of the Search and Rescue hangar, and was immediately surrounded by emergency personnel, including a bomb disposal unit.
The flight was headed by Canadian pilot Stow Andrew Chisholm.
"We were three hours into the flight when the captain said we're turning around because of security issues. We went back to Vancouver then they turned us around again to go to Comox," said Calgary passenger Evan Orich, who was flying to Seoul, then to Cebu, Philippines in order to visit his wife's family.
"We landed there and sat on the plane for about another hour, then they took us off 25 at a time," he said, adding passengers in the cabin remained calm.
Following a thorough security screening of passengers, crew and baggage, 19 Wing Comox personnel fed the passengers at the mess hall at the base, and they were then escorted to two different hotels in the Valley overnight.
Following an inspection of the plane and its contents, it was determined a bomb was not on board.
Passenger Lyle Letawsky was on his way to Manila, Philippines to meet his wife for his honeymoon, and explained he was unsure when he would get to see her.
"(My wife) is waiting patiently, and I had to phone the hotel and rebook for a couple of more days just because I'm not sure when I'm going to arrive there," he said, and added the most frustrating part for him was waiting on the tarmac.
"If it was a bomb threat, wouldn't you want to get everyone away from the plane?" he asked. "But I have to give kudos to the military for feeding us and the flight crew — they did an excellent job on handling the situation as best as they could.
"It's life, you just have to roll with the punches and make the best of it," he added.
Wednesday morning, James Koh, general manager of Western Canada for Korean Air, told passengers at the Best Western Westerley Hotel that every passenger had to be interviewed by RCMP at noon prior to continuing their travels.
Koh said passengers would return to Vancouver before continuing overseas.
"Our airplane goes to Vancouver and then stays there for another two hours to get fuel and catering and then we take off heading to Korea," he noted.
Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, the first of three buses carrying the stranded passengers arrived at the Comox Valley Airport.
Lindsay Hall, a passenger from Vancouver waiting to clear security at the airport, said despite the inconvenience, he appreciated the effort from staff and crew.
"From the airline crew when everything started, to all of the people on the ground, the Canadian Forces, the RCMP, everyone has been really great. They've been kind, generous, and most importantly, patient," he noted.
Penny Pfaelzer, spokeswoman for Korean Air, said Thursday passengers were very complimentary to the airline on how it handled the situation.
"Korean Air is one of the world's safest airlines and passengers recognized that actions taken were in the passengers' best interest," she added.
Tuesday's threat was the second against the airline in two days. Korean Air received a similar threat April 9 while the Seoul-bound flight was still on the ground at Vancouver International Airport, which resulted in a two-hour delay.