Boston Airport to Be Stage for Major Hijacking Drill

United Flight 9073, en route from Paris to Chicago, will be hijacked Saturday. An escort of swarming military jets will force it to land at Logan International Airport in Boston. After a hostage is killed and thrown onto the tarmac, an assault team will storm the plane. Ambulances will speed away with the injured.

And it's all a drill.

It's the first terrorism exercise in the United States involving an in-flight military intercept of a commercial jet since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Massachusetts Port Authority officials say.

They added that the three-hour exercise should not disrupt air traffic in or out of Logan, where the two planes that slammed into the World Trade Center in New York took off.

There are no plans, however, to make announcements in Logan's terminals as regular flights land and depart, said United spokesman Jeff Green. Airline employees have been briefed on how to answer passengers' questions, he said.

Despite news reports and announcements about the full-scale terrorism preparedness exercise, some airport neighbors said yesterday that they didn't know about it. On Elmer Avenue in Winthrop, about 350 feet across the water from Logan, Daniela Foley said it was news to her. Debra Cave, president of East Boston's Eagle Hill Civic Association, and Karen Maddalena of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association had not heard of the drill, either.

"As far as I know, and I have friends who live up and down, nobody's mentioned this going on," said Carol Harvey, a lifelong Winthrop resident on Circuit Road.

Even if the hijacking were real, though, it might not get noticed. Harvey said flashing lights and sounds at Logan don't draw too much notice from nearby residents, who have learned to turn the airport off. "We don't really blink too much when they see a commotion," she said.

Officials plan a news conference tomorrow to get the word out. "All appropriate outreach was undertaken... and the community should not panic," Massport spokeswoman Danny Levy said.

The Massport website says, "Residents should be aware that if they see a large number of emergency vehicles en route to Logan Airport on the morning of May 7, it is a drill, not an actual emergency, and there is no need for concern."

The plane used in the exercise will carry about 80 role-playing passengers and hijackers, who will pretend to commandeer the plane as it flies over the Atlantic. Jets will be dispatched to intercept the flight and force it to land.

Hundreds of people from nearly 50 federal, state, and local agencies will then converge on Logan. Tactical assault, hazardous materials, and other teams will handle hostage negotiations, injured passengers, and other emergency situations, including the threat of a bomb on the plane.

At one point, a dummy will be thrown from the plane to simulate a young hostage killed by the hijackers, said a Logan source involved with planning the exercise, who asked not to be identified.

During the drill, helicopters will be banned from airspace over and around Logan to prevent the media and others from photographing the mock tactical assault, which US authorities want to keep secret, the source said.

The exercise, dubbed Operation Atlas, is intended to find and close gaps in city, state, and federal emergency responses.

The drill, plus meetings to discuss other attack scenarios, is expected to cost about $700,000 and will be paid for by a Department of Homeland Security grant.