A 132-passenger Delta Air Lines flight from Colombia to Atlanta was abruptly diverted to a military airfield near Key West on Sunday after the name of a passenger was found to be the same as that of someone on a federal security "watch list."
About five hours later, federal agents determined that the Colombian man was a victim of "identity theft" by another person on a list that several sources said was issued by an intelligence agency.
The man - whose name authorities declined to reveal - was released late Sunday.
The Boeing 757 jet, en route from Bogota, landed about 2 p.m. at the U.S. Naval Air Station Key West's Boca Chica airfield just north of the city. There, the unidentified man and his baggage were removed from the plane by federal agents.
The plane sat on the runway for about two hours before taking off for Atlanta without the man - a Colombian citizen who lives in New York and has resident alien status in the United States, according to several federal sources.
"It was somebody on a no-fly list," Judy Orihuela, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Miami, said Sunday afternoon before the matter was resolved. "They won't really know until they get the person and ID them and make sure it's the person on the list."
That identification would take several more hours, as FBI and immigration agents tried to determine the man's identity using multiple methods.
"It was through fingerprinting and other sources of information" that officials finally determined that the man was not the man on the watch list, Orihuela said.
"It was a case of mistaken identity and identity theft," she said. "There is a person we are looking for who stole his identity, and so that's how he got on the no-fly list. They cleared him."
The plane was likely diverted to Boca Chica instead of Key West International Airport because of its large size, which the Key West airport would have had difficulty accommodating.
A Delta spokeswoman said Sunday night that the incident was fairly unusual.
"I can't say that we have this happen a lot," Tracey Bowen said.