False Hijacking Alarm Causes Diversion of N.Y.-Bound Plane

WASHINGTON (AP) - A New York-bound passenger jet was diverted to Canada after sending out a false hijacking alarm. It landed safely in Nova Scotia and resumed its flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Canadian fighter jets escorted Virgin Atlantic Airways' Flight 45 to the Halifax International Airport on Friday because of the false alarm.

Canadian law enforcement officials met the plane and inspected it to determine what caused the problem. Airline spokeswoman Brooke Lawer said the transponder sent out a false alert.

Lawer said the airline was in contact with the captain and the flight crew, who said the flight deck door was locked and secured.

Passenger Bernie Goebel of Golden's Bridge, New York, told Associated Press Television News that passengers were alerted to the scare when a crew member's voice came over the public-address system.

"They said, 'Some of you might have noticed the F-16 flying next to us,"' Goebel told APTN. "He told us, 'We're not being hijacked."'

SWAT team members were seen entering the Airbus A340-600 as it sat on the tarmac with its 273 passengers and 16 crew members still on board. The plane had left London Heathrow Airport.

The airline issued a statement saying the technical issues involved in the false alarm were resolved and it apologized for any upset or inconvenience to passengers.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Greg Martin said transponders rarely malfunction.

"It does happen," Martin said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said President George W. Bush was briefed about the plane incident while clearing brush on his Texas ranch and was being kept apprised of the situation.