A federal air marshal was mistaken by a flight attendant on a United Airlines flight for a gun-toting civilian passenger and apprehended on a Twin Cities airport tarmac along with fellow marshal, officials and a woman on board said Tuesday.
The off-the-mark apprehensions occurred Monday night after the nonstop Flight 3531 landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to a statement from the federal Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).
The marshal was “on official business onboard a flight [and] was mistaken for a passenger by a flight attendant,” the agency’s statement read. “Protocols for notification of law enforcement presence aboard an aircraft are in place to avoid incidents like this. TSA is working with the airline to determine the specific circumstances in this case.”
Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said the two were taken to the airport’s police station and questioned by the FBI.
FBI spokeswoman Cindy Burnham said the marshal was assigned to be on that particular flight. She declined to say anything about the second person who was removed from the plane.
A TSA spokesperson told the Star Tribune that the second person also was a federal air marshal.
The flight was operated by Indianapolis-based Republic Airline, which partners with United and other major carriers in commercial air service. Republic said in a statement late Tuesday morning, “We are aware of this incident and are working with investigators.”
Passenger Jennifer Berman told the Star Tribune that she and the others onboard were informed that the landing was being delayed briefly because “our gate was occupied, which was a total lie.”
Minutes later and while the aircraft was on the tarmac but not yet at the gate, Berman said, “police cars surround the plane and the pilot signaled the two flight attendants to prepare the doors for arrival — in the middle of runway.”
Berman said at least four police officers boarded and “quietly asked the two gentlemen” sitting across the aisle from each other in first class “to come with them. They went up and went down the stairs.”
She said the two, dressed in slacks and button-down shirts, were then handcuffed while on the tarmac.
A few more officers came aboard and questioned passengers who had been sitting near the two men, Berman said.
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